The Barnum of Autism

The British Medical Journal has started the process of completely destroying Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet paper linking autism to the MMR vaccine. Lancet finally withdrew this paper last February, 12 years after it was published, and Wakefield and his co-author had their licenses to practice medicine revoked. Journalist Brian Deer’s first article in the BMJ series shows the discrepancies between Wakefield’s “research” and the actual case histories of the participants in his study, noting that “No case was free of misreporting or alteration.”

Wakefield was employed by a lawyer who wanted to sue vaccine makers and was paid a total of £435 643, plus expenses. He “discovered” the autism-MMR link after being put on the payroll, but before doing any research at all.

The damage done by this fraud is immense, and hopefully the BMJ series will help stamp out the zombie lie that vaccines cause autism, but I’m afraid that it’s taken on a life of its own and lives on in the world of conspiracy. I’m casually acquainted with the father of a young boy with autism, and he’s woven a whole story around his child’s illness that puts the blame on his child’s reaction to a vaccination. I’ve heard his story a couple of times, and it is a riveting tale. I wonder if he’d even have considered that connection if it weren’t for Wakefield’s fradulent “research”, and I wonder how many parents have listened to his story and decided against vaccinating their children.

(via)

76 replies
  1. 1
    Nick says:

    way to make martyrs of pharmaceutical companies, just like the NYC Sanitation Dept. made a martyr of Bloomberg.

  2. 2
    aimai says:

    Magical thinking, its what gets most of us through the day one way or another. Pharyngula had a link to a short article about this and commented that people have died, and will continue dying, because of Wakefield’s attack on vaccines. He asks “how does Wakefield live” with the knowledge? But what he’s done to the parents of these kids is almost worse.

    Autism is terribly, terribly, hard on the parents and caregivers–worse before there was any kind of diagnosis–its not surprising that people cling to an “explanation” for something so mysterious. And not surprising that they prefer an exogenous explanation for one that would probably shift blame to genetics or the even more awful “something the parents did.” A whole industry of lecturers and scolds have grown up around pregnancy and the first years of childhood–reac the *&^ What to Expect When You Are Expecting series and you are brought face to face with a pseudo scientific regime which holds parents, and especially mothers, at fault for everything that happens in the first nine months. The conviction that you can build a perfect baby is embedded in our perfectionist, can do, culture. When the baby isn’t perfect someone’s got to take the blame and the parents and grandparents can end up looking for something to relieve their anxiety and their guilt. Its a horrible situation to be in, on top of the extreme difficulties and isolation the parents are already facing.

    Wakefield and Jenny McCarthey should be exiled to ice floes.

    aimai

  3. 3
    Earl says:

    @aimai: “He asks “how does Wakefield live” with the knowledge?”

    On the pile of money that was given him…

  4. 4
    rickstersherpa says:

    As another thread on a slightly different subject stated, Dr. Wakefield and the attorney who employed him certainly meet the operational definition of “evil.” I expect thousands have already died because of this urban myth he help propagate, and hundreds of thousands have needlessly suffered, in many cases with permament effects and disabilities, because of this monster. http://www.skepdic.com/antivaccination.html

    And for what, as Marge Gunderson would say, “for what? For a little bit of money. There’s more to life than a little money, you know. Don’t you know that? And here ya are, and it’s a beautiful day.”

    Besides the initial payment, I expect Dr. Wakefield has made millions from lecture fees and videos over the last 12 years preying on those in Autism community and the anti-vaccination movement (which predated the autism story by 20 years). I think the Queen should grant him the title “Duke of Bilgewater” for his mis-services for humanity.

  5. 5
    MattF says:

    I didn’t know about the lawyer/lawsuit piece of the story– that promotes Wakefield’s offense from manslaughter to serial murder, IMO.

  6. 6
    efroh says:

    My sister actually delayed some of her child’s vaccinations because she felt, like the father in this article, “it just feels like a lot for a developing immune system to deal with.” (She even used those exact words!)

    But what makes matters worse is that she’s a FUCKING PEDIATRICIAN and has no fucking excuse for succumbing to the panic that Wakefield and his fellow assholes have engendered re vaccines. But in addition to being a FUCKING PEDIATRICIAN she’s also a concerned parent. Unfortunately for my nephew, the parent side has won over the physician side of my sister’s brain. I just hope he makes it through his early years without getting something like pertussis.

  7. 7
    brantl says:

    There was a study done by an employee of the CDC, who shortly after went to work for Glaxxo-Smith Klein ( a vaccine manufacturer) that was hidden by the Bush administration, that they had a big meeting about it with the vaccine industry, and it was decided that the study wouldn’t be released. It indicated (because it was a very large population that data had been accumulated on) that thimerosol exposure ( a mercury salt used to preserve multi-dose bottles of vaccine) was directly linked to higher autism rates. The Bush administration and the vaccine industry decided to bury the study. And, by the way thimerosol has been banned from use in animal vaccines for about 2 decades, why would that be? Food chain considerations, perhaps?

    Bobby Kennedy Jr. got this study through FOIA request. Has this study ever been debunked? I don’t think it has.

    My boy gets vaccinated, but he doesn’t get any vaccines that have thimerosol in them. I don’t understand why anyone would want to give their kid a vaccine that has a mercury salt in it, which is what thimerosol is. And if they won’t even give it to cows, why would you give it to your kids?

  8. 8
    geg6 says:

    I’m with aimai on this. Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy should both DIAF. They are directly responsible for the deaths of many, in the past, right now, and in the future. Their zombie lies have taken hold in a large segment of our society. I know of three sets of parents who have not had their children vaccinated, all people with advanced college degrees, because they have fallen for this bullshit. I shudder when I think of these kids going into their schools and other activities completely unprotected.

  9. 9
    John S. says:

    @aimai:

    My 3 year old son has ASD (autism spectrum disorder). Within the realm of mainstream treatment and diagnosis, Wakefield and McCarthy are deemed as frauds, and may as well have been exiled to ice floes. The staff at my son’s school for children with ASD can’t even say their names without looking like they want to vomit. The only thing worse is a group of quacks that call themselves DAN doctors (Defeat Autism Now) who prey on desperate parents and take them for as much money as they can with fake “cures”.

    There is no cure for autism, as it isn’t a disease. And it certainly wasn’t caused by vaccines, since I know for a fact my son was born just as he is. And I’m totally okay with that, because he is a delightful and bright little boy. There is nothing wrong with him, he just is wired a little differently and isn’t neurotypical. Or as Temple Grandin would say, “different but not less”.

    As my wife and I continue to learn how to relate to our son on his terms, and change our behavior to match his, we are seeing him flourish. Between the behavioral, speech and cognitive therapies he receives at school, he is fully expected to enter a mainstream school by the time he is 5 and ready for kindergarten. But it’s a lot of work. And too often, people are lazy and want some magic pill to fix their problems, or to ease their own insecurities by creating some menace upon which they can blame all their ills. Unfortunately for them, autism doesn’t work like that.

  10. 10
    Uloborus says:

    @brantl:
    Nobody gets vaccines with thimerosol in them. It’s not used anymore. Hasn’t been since this scare started, just because the doctors wanted to be careful. Not because there was any evidence, but because they err on the side of protecting human life.

    As for the rest… you’re siting one study that may not even exist. I mean, what do we know about a study that if it existed was buried? This subject has been peer-reviewed TO DEATH. The pile of evidence that vaccines, even mercury vaccines not being used now, have absolutely nothing to do with autism are a mile high. No other study ever found anything, and it turns out that the original study also didn’t find anything. It was a particularly disgusting lie.

    I hope your post was snark, because if not it’s a fine example of conspiracy theory thinking. When the mass of evidence is obvious you’ve looked for any exception and assumed it means something important.

  11. 11
    Lavocat says:

    Ah, what humans won’t do out of the love of money!

  12. 12
    John S. says:

    @brantl:

    MOST people’s children don’t get vaccines with thimerosal in them because they don’t use it in most vaccines anymore. In fact, most vaccines never had it, and the ones that did haven’t had it for many years now.

    Familiarize yourself with Table 1 at the link below, and knock off the conspiracy bullshit:

    http://www.fda.gov/biologicsbl.....096228.htm

  13. 13

    For those of you in the UK (or with a VPN) BBC radio 4 just had an interesting programme on the longest running longitudinal study of childhood vaccines and overall health.

    The upshot: a team in Guinea Bissau have found that, for children in developing countries (and this is key, because they’re specifically talking about kids who do not have access to modern, western medicine with any surety or regularity) certain vaccines (e.g. for Measels) seem to have an extremely beneficial effect on the immune system while others (Pertussis) seem to weaken only girls’ immune systems.

    The programme is one-sided and popular, but they get a number of legitimate scientists on and the meta discussion regarding trust in vaccines (which is implicit if not explicit in every interview) are fascinating.

    Also, vaccines are one of the greatest human inventions. Anti-vaxxer’s are nuts.

  14. 14
    Alwhite says:

    @geg6:
    As much as I hate what McCarthy has done I would cut her a small break. She is not a scientist so she was relying on the work of a charlatan that posed as one. If she were to come out & apologize & urge parents to get their kids vaccinated I would consider her as someone that went in beyond their depth & made a mistake.

    The real problem is that, as a society, we seem to need famous people to draw attention to real problems. But famous people are rarely famous for their brains or scientific achievements. They take the word of ‘experts’ who may or may not be honest and ethical. If they are having ‘star power’ behind their work gets it noticed & improves things. In cases like this dupes give star power to ideas that kill even if their intentions are good.

    Heard on the road to Hell:
    “Hey! What type of paving material do you guys use?”

  15. 15
    Alwhite says:

    Although upon more reflection there has been plenty of evidence that this guy was wrong that McCarthy chose to ignore. That probably stems from her science illiteracy but is still unforgivable.

  16. 16
    Ash Can says:

    @brantl: In the face of the pile of scientific evidence debunking this (here’s a good start), this seems tantamount to global warming denial, or the insistence to this day by some smokers that tobacco smoke really doesn’t cause health problems. It simply doesn’t stand up to any real scrutiny, and the only way to make it stand up is to construct a conspiracy to shield it.

  17. 17
    Mr. Furious says:

    … I wonder how many parents have listened to his story and decided against vaccinating their children.

    Plenty of them. We were almost among them.

    Our first daughter was born in October 2002 when this thing was taking off and we altered her vaccination schedule because of it. The case was compelling, and as new parents of a baby that meant more than everything else in our lives combined we were absolutely erring on the side of what was then what I would consider caution, not paranoia.

    We still vaccinated, but not at the accelerated schedule favored by some in the medical community.

    Those of you looking at this from the outside (non-parents), or who weren’t in apposition to make this decisional the time need to understand the position parents were viewing thins from — and more importantly — remember that this being taken very seriously by the medical community and pharmaceutical industry at the time. Thimerasol was being pulled from all vaccines and our pediatrician assured us the MMR he was administering our daughter was “mercury-free.” This all lent credence to the expanding rumors.

    To make it worse in our case, our daughter had a severe allergic reaction to the shot that shocked even the staff in the doctor’s office. We ended up in that exam room for two hours after the shot while we waited for her to recover. During that time I pulled the box from the vaccine from the trash and read the side and the vaccination DID have Thimerasol and I was infuriated. I confronted the doctor the next time he checked on us, and reaction sent me over the edge. He was completely dismissed me –a distraught parent in the moment — and changed his attitude from one of concern to scorn. We left that practice at that point and were extremely skeptical going forward , but our daughter is/was fully vaccinated, but at a slower pace than normal.

    Those on the sidelines taking potshots at parents as paranoid crazies akin to evolution or global warming deniers can go fuck themselves. This was a far more complicated, personal and immediate issue to deal with at the time than it appears in retrospect.

  18. 18
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The Ferengi disease is at the heart of all this. Wakefield and the pharmaceutical industry both suffer from it.

    What the fuck do we do about this? It’s leading us to a civilization collapse on the order of Easter Island being wiped out. We can see it coming, but no one gives a rat’s ass. It’s like people partying in Berlin as the Red Army closes in.

  19. 19
  20. 20
    Wilson Heath says:

    I’ve seen a relative’s marriage fall apart because of the blame and s*** flung around because their son was autistic. I totally get looking for a way to externalize the blame, even when it doesn’t make any rational sense.

  21. 21
    beltane says:

    As the mother of an autistic son, I want to be on the record saying I hate, hate, hate this man. His little siren of death sidekick Jenny McCarthy can share in this abundance of hate.

    Sadly, the parents who listen to these clowns are so deep into the CT crap that there is nothing that will bring them back to reality.

  22. 22
    beltane says:

    @Wilson Heath: Why must there always be blame in this society? Why does everyone think they have been guaranteed a whole load of unlimited perfect in their lives? Instead of everyone asking “why me?” they should be asking “why not me?”.

  23. 23
    Mr. Furious says:

    As for brantl’s “conspiracy” as Ash Can put it, this kind of information was rampant on the internet, and seized upon by the media at the time who were anxious to stoke “film at eleven” fear in parents. There were NONE of the clear debunking studies as evidence in 2002.

  24. 24
    JD Rhoades says:

    Clearly Wakefield is the victim of a smear campaign cooked up by Big Pharma to silence and intimidate those who would speak the truth about their cash cow vaccines that give kids autism.

    Yes, that was snark.

  25. 25
    DougJ says:

    Sorry, but who do you think I’m going to believe, a respected celebrity like Jenny McCarthy or some egghead nobodies like at the British Medical Journal?

  26. 26
    Mr. Furious says:

    As for brantl’s “conspiracy” as Ash Can put it, this kind of information (Bush cover-up) was rampant on the internet, and (the scare) was seized upon by the media at the time who were anxious to stoke “film at eleven” fear in parents. There were NONE of the clear debunking studies as evidence in 2002.

    Parenthesis added for clarification since edit function failed.

  27. 27

    Putting aside the public health debacle caused by this egregious bit of scientific fraud… on a purely selfish note, I’m not really looking forward to the series of posts at Reason about how this is evidence of the vast corruption in the field of science and how it demonstrates that climate scientists are probably on the take from Big Solar Panel.

  28. 28
    LGRooney says:

    Haven’t yet checked but wonder whether the alt-med morons at HuffPo will be trumpeting this latest news.

  29. 29
    Ash Can says:

    @Mr. Furious: Our only son was an infant/toddler going through his schedule of vaccinations at the same time. I’m well aware that these were dicey times for the parent-vaccine relationship. And I don’t mean to imply that your experience with your daughter’s reaction, and the ensuing trouble with the physician, were anything but awful. But the fact is, even then, the evidence in favor of vaccines, from many different sources, was overwhelming, and this study published by the Lancet was just one study, and was still under independent investigation. We were fortunate enough at the time to have doctors who emphasized this fact as well, so our concerns about Bottle Rocket’s immunizations were minimized.

  30. 30
    liberal says:

    @Wilson Heath:
    Blame or no blame, IIRC having a developmentally disabled child is (correlationwise) a risk factor for marriages falling apart. There’s just lots of stress there.

    Hell, I have twins, and having healthy kids is stressful.

  31. 31
    Sputnik says:

    I have heard both childcare and medical professionals swear up and down that vaccines are to blame for autism, despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. I can understand parents believing the link because it is often easier to believe a lie than it is to face the unknown, but for professionals who in theory have some authority on the subject to repeat this lie is unconscionable.

  32. 32
    liberal says:

    @Villago Delenda Est:
    I borrowed a book on the Wakefield et al. scandal from my boss (a research psychiatrist). He pointed out that while he entirely agrees with the book, the author looks a little compromised by not mentioning that the pediatric vaccine he helped develop (which he did mention) made him pretty wealthy.

  33. 33
    liberal says:

    @brantl:
    Look, all things being equal, I’d rather vaccines going into my kids didn’t have mercury. But you have to ask “how much mercury? Is it really that much more than they’re getting anyway from the environment?” And as for mercury toxicity, there’s the whole ethyl vs methyl mercury issue. I’m not a toxicologist, but AFAICT the fact that the one is eliminated from the body faster does mean it’s less toxic.

  34. 34
    liberal says:

    @Sputnik:
    Problem is that MDs are not scientists. I have MDs in my family (I have a PhD in math, and my dad has a PhD in biochemistry). I don’t know if it’s medical training, or if it’s a filter effect (ie based on the type of person who decides to become an MD), but AFAICT the avg MD just doesn’t truly think like a scientist. (I work around lots of MDs.)

    Moreover, there have been studies which show pretty conclusively that MDs aren’t all that great about thinking about statistical/probabilistic issues.

  35. 35
    liberal says:

    @DougJ:
    I absolutely agree, but you also have to ask which source is getting more exposure in the media.

  36. 36
    liberal says:

    @efroh:

    But what makes matters worse is that she’s a FUCKING PEDIATRICIAN…

    Well, my sister is an internist, a pretty good one, and she still did that stupid-ass chelation treatment with my autistic nephew.

  37. 37
    greennotGreen says:

    @John S.:
    My first job out of college was working with autistic children, though now I would say that most of our kids had autistm and retardation. It is, after all, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and not all people with it are at the same level. We struggled with our kids to make it possible for them to live in their homes with their parents – living independently was not an option unless a miracle occurred. This was long enough ago that some of those parents – especially the mothers – had been told that their emotional rejection of their children had caused these catastrophic learning and behavior disabilities. When you light the fire for Wakefield, can I reach back in time and throw in Bruno Bettelheim?

    I’m thrilled that John S. has a “delightful and bright little boy,” but that’s not what autism means to a lot of people, and I understand their desperation to find a cause since that knowledge can be the first step to a cure – or at least a treatment. Sure, Wakefield is a putz, but if scientific illiteracy weren’t rampant in this country, there wouldn’t have been such an effect.

  38. 38
    Sputnik says:

    @Alwhite: I agree. As much as Jenny McCarthy infuriates me on the subject, I can understand how she would be taken with a fraudulent explanation when the alternative is no explanation. I have more of an issue with the media who presents her as an expert.

  39. 39
    brat says:

    Ok. I have a very different attitude that most, since I grew up around the Amish, who don’t vaccinate at all.

    There’s nothing charming about having a 7-year old die of tetnus (sp?) or any OTHER easily preventable disease. Each vaccine does carry a risk of reaction, but these risks are far, far less than those of actually contracting the illness.

    The Wakefield fraud has made me crazy for years. It just played into the worst anti-intellectual wackiness human nature, with predictably lethal results.

  40. 40
    Michael D. says:

    I wonder how many parents have listened to his story and decided against vaccinating their children.

    One too many.

  41. 41

    @liberal:

    Generally MDs don’t have any (or very much) training in conducting research, but at the same time you probably don’t want a PhD with no clinical experience running studies solo on people with heart failure. It’s a difficult balancing act in human research and I wouldn’t say it’s very much to blame in this particular case…. PhD’s have committed fraud too… and MD’s not correctly informing their patients is more an issue of their not keeping up with the literature, which in many states they are required to do.

  42. 42
    keestadoll says:

    I know I have had many concerns since this “link” was first brought into pop consciousness and I doubt that many parents will heed this debunking despite the obvious evidence. What I have done, and what I have encouraged others to do is to just err on the side of caution. Most (perhaps all?) vaccines are offered in a non-mercury preservative form. The fact that mercury is bad is indisputable, so get the vaccinations, but opt for non-mercury. I mean, why not?

  43. 43
    LGRooney says:

    @LGRooney: Actually made it to the front page. Surprising. Can that accessory to murder, Jenny McCarthy, now go crawl under a rock for the next 50 years, please?

  44. 44
    chris y says:

    I know some children who came this close to not being vaccinated at the height of the hullabaloo, even though their mother was a hospital nurse, for heaven’s sake. (Fortunately, they did get their shots, after a lot of debate and heart searching.) But the drumbeat was so deafening that people were almost driven to question their own judgement.

    There is a special circle of hell set aside for people like Wakefield and for his enablers.

  45. 45
    burnspbesq says:

    @brantl:

    Has it occurred to you that the study may have been “buried” because it was bad science?

  46. 46
    merrinc says:

    @greennotGreen:

    if scientific illiteracy weren’t rampant in this country, there wouldn’t have been such an effect.

    This, in a nutshell. There’s no War on Christmas, there’s a goddamn War on SCIENCE.

  47. 47
    Uloborus says:

    @liberal:
    …you know some fucked up doctors. I also have a medical family and have worked extensively in the medical community, and any doctor that pulled that would be edged away from by her peers. Doctors aren’t necessarily scientists or researchers, but they’re being constantly educated in the latest research and are much closer to it than ordinary people. Quack science is viewed VERY harshly by the non-quack medical community.

    On the other hand, doctors are all human. There are certainly idiots in the mix, and smart people with some special weakness in what they want to believe. I wish humans were rational animals, but we’re not.

  48. 48
    jibeaux says:

    It’s gone beyond reason now. I think probably the parents whose unvaccinated children have died of whooping cough probably regret it, but short of that I’ve given up hope that there’s much convincing them anymore. It’s now a matter of faith rather than science.

    aimai mentioned an ice floe, which is interestingly pretty much exactly what I heard this one woman I heard interviewed say. Her infant, too young to be vaccinated, had contracted something awful on an airplane from an unvaccinated kid, measles or mumps, I can’t remember, and got very ill but survived. She was asked if she thought those parents should be allowed to opt out of vaccinating their kids, and her proposal was, okay, as long as they go live by themselves on a desert island somewhere and never leave.

  49. 49
    celticdragonchick says:

    @Mr. Furious:

    Those of you looking at this from the outside (non-parents), or who weren’t in apposition to make this decisional the time need to understand the position parents were viewing thins from—and more importantly—remember that this being taken very seriously by the medical community and pharmaceutical industry at the time. Thimerasol was being pulled from all vaccines and our pediatrician assured us the MMR he was administering our daughter was “mercury-free.” This all lent credence to the expanding rumors.

    To make it worse in our case, our daughter had a severe allergic reaction to the shot that shocked even the staff in the doctor’s office. We ended up in that exam room for two hours after the shot while we waited for her to recover. During that time I pulled the box from the vaccine from the trash and read the side and the vaccination DID have Thimerasol and I was infuriated. I confronted the doctor the next time he checked on us, and reaction sent me over the edge. He was completely dismissed me—a distraught parent in the moment—and changed his attitude from one of concern to scorn. We left that practice at that point and were extremely skeptical going forward , but our daughter is/was fully vaccinated, but at a slower pace than normal.

    Those on the sidelines taking potshots at parents as paranoid crazies akin to evolution or global warming deniers can go fuck themselves. This was a far more complicated, personal and immediate issue to deal with at the time than it appears in retrospect.

    Thank you. A thousand times thank you.

    I did get pulled in by the Lancet study after CBS News did a panicked report on it. I am actually trained in science, and it is utterly beyond me how somebody could actually fake his data.

    We were terrified, with a non speaking child that our first pediatrician refused to even refer to a specialist after he wrote us off as nervous Nellie type parents. When we finally got him diagnosed as autistic at 4 years old, his pre school teacher attacked us viciously for waiting so long and implied we were unfit.

    I know geology. I don’t know a damned thing about toxicology, and I depended on the scientists involved to be as professional as I would be with a client.

    My mistake.

    (our son had about 90% of his suggested vaccinations…considrably more then I or his mother had as children)

  50. 50
    Punchy says:

    Moreover, there have been studies which show pretty conclusively that MDs aren’t all that great about thinking about statistical/probabilistic issues.

    They’re more concerned with liability. They dont give a shit (or maybe they do, but I doubt it) whether mercury is a factor, but they do care if their patients will make the connection and sue them for “breaking” their child w/ thermisol. Ergo, their quick switch to Hg-free formulations, based on nothing but lawsuit risk reduction.

  51. 51
    Mr Furious says:

    @Ash Can: It might help to put in perspective the outlook we had going into the birth of our first daughter…

    Our birth plan was to have as little intervention / as natural as possible. We were fully aware of the defensive medicine practiced in childbirth (OB/GYNs being the most-sued MDs) and wanted to avoid a c-section (which are statistically way out of whack in our “best medical system in the world”), and also were maintaining what we believed to be a healthy level of skepticism about what was considered normal course of action. We ended up with a Caesarian after all (our daughter was over nine pounds, and my wife is 5′ 2″), and or experience in the hospital was frustrating due to the constant interference of protocol. Nurses who insisted repeatedly on taking our daughter to the nursery despite our protests, attempts by the same nurses to bottle-feed formula against our explicit wishes.

    By the time we were going through the vaccinations over the next few months, we had hardened our stance on controlling what was happening with our daughter.

    Thimerosol was no longer in production, but still in use. Doctors were allowed to exhaust supplies in stock, which was certainly what happened in our case. Our doctor may not have been lying—as far as he knew it was pulled—but a package that says “may contain preservatives such as Thimerosol” means my daughter may have just been shot up with mercury, and I’m not an idiot for asking about it—which is how he treated me.

    Doctors regularly pimp whatever pharmaceutical companies push on them (there’s a reason why every form you fill out is with a pen supplied by Pfizer), so their opinion can be clouded or compromised. As far as any assurance from the FDA or CDC at the time, please remember what we were dealing with: unlike our gracious host, I was tuned to Bush/Cheney bullshit the moment they took office, and the head of the FDA was certainly a big pharma exec, and whoever was leading an investigation was probably the person who personally invented or marketed thimerosol in their previous job.

    Four years later our approach with our second daughter was different, we had a scheduled Caesarian, and were more relaxed aboiut things in general, but maintained strict control of her in the hospital and GTFO of there ASAP.

    There is overwhelming science about all of this now—far more than was available then, and presented much more assuredly—so I think the decisions are much more clear, but I’m not as quick as some to fault parents who put their child’s welfare above everything else—to a certain limit.

    The continued presence of “equal sides” in even this debate with people like McCarthy still getting airtime is bullshit and needs to be squelched, and has led to herd immunity being compromised in many areas (recent outbreaks in San Diego, etc) and individual decisions now have the capacity to have wider public health consequences.

  52. 52
    Mr Furious says:

    @Punchy:

    They’re more concerned with liability. They dont give a shit (or maybe they do, but I doubt it) whether mercury is a factor, but they do care if their patients will make the connection and sue them for “breaking” their child w/ thermisol. Ergo, their quick switch to Hg-free formulations, based on nothing but lawsuit risk reduction.

    Word. The news of it being pulled, and the fact that our doctor specifically assured us ahead of time that there was no mercury would certainly bolster the position that there was risk.

    Science in this case was driven by Big Pharma legal departments, and they hurt their own case in the court of public opinion.

  53. 53
    Ash Can says:

    @Mr Furious: Understood, and thanks for your detailed and well-reasoned response. It’s evident to me that you had, unfortunately, far less supportive medical personnel surrounding you at the time of your daughter’s birth than my husband and I did when our son was born. My original point, from which I was somewhat sidetracked, was disbelief that someone such as brantl could still be peddling the thimerosol line (a huge part of the whole conspiracy nature of the anti-vax movement) to this day.

  54. 54

    @chris y:

    There is a special circle of hell set aside for people like Wakefield and for his enablers.

    Appropriately, falsifiers are punished in the lowest circle of Malebolge where they are afflicted with permanent disease.

    For all Wakefield’s faults, the scare around MMR could not have taken off without the irresponsibility of the British print media. This was one tiny study and there was ample evidence even in the early 2000s that it amounted to nothing important in the context of wider knowledge. I remember that because my own kids were of that age around that time and the urgency of getting them vaccinated when it was evident that growing panic was going to jeopardise herd immunity was compelling. Yet certain sections of the press determinedly pressed the story and ignored (and still ignore) contrary evidence. I find Ben Goldacre’s history of the scandal apportions blame persuasively.

  55. 55
    MattR says:

    Here’s some great news from CNN’s article about this

    Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, defended Wakefield in a CNN interview.
    __
    “I cannot imagine for a second that Dr. Wakefield would have any reason to falsify data,” she said. “He’s a man of integrity and honesty and truly wants to find the answers for millions of children who have been affected by autism.”

  56. 56
    Anthony says:

    I’m a Brit, so it may be that my experience is different to that of many people on here, but I think there are a couple of major points to be made.

    The first is that none of this disaster would have happened in the first place were it not for the active collusion of large sections of the press, most notably (in my view) the 24-hour news channels. When you hear journos on the BBC raking Wakefield over the coals this week, don’t be lured into forgetting that for a very long time Wakefield was treated deferentially as a scrappy Everyman standing up to Big Pharma and frantic scientists and medicos who knew their jobs much better than Wakefield were steamrollered as shills to big business by many of the same news anchors and editorial teams who are now eager to string Wakefield up. And pretty much everything we know now was known then if people weren’t choosing to ignore it. The press has effectively written itself out of this story, when in reality it was Wakefield’s key enabler for years. Where are the apologies? Where is the self-criticism? Where is the process of lesson-learning? Not much in evidence from what I can tell. Does anyone seriously think that the exact same mistakes will not be made again in the future with a different issue? Because I don’t.

    The other point to be made is that even if Wakefield was correct (and, to be crystal clear, he wasn’t), the negative impact of people fleeing from immunisation has been far worse than a few children each year ending up with autism. Harsh but true. The death rate (and other side effects) from measles has shot up. Furthermore, it seems that, in Britain at least, we really did come very close to compromising “herd immunity”.

    The final disturbing thing is the fact that the anti-vaccination phenomenon (in Europe at least) has been driven as much if not more by the bien pensant middle class Left as by the reactionary Right. The same people who, rightly, sneer at creationism will too often buy into all sorts of woo when it comes to medical (and agricultural) science. As one of my friends put it, it’s “The dark side of knit-your-own-yoghurt”. Or, as Ben Goldacre has snarked, “big corporations are evil and therefore sugar pills cure cancer”.

  57. 57
    Brachiator says:

    Maybe it’s Tea Party bullshit in the water, but the junk science crazy train is picking up steam (Journal’s Paper on ESP Expected to Prompt Outrage)

    One of psychology’s most respected journals has agreed to publish a paper presenting what its author describes as strong evidence for extrasensory perception, the ability to sense future events.
    __
    The decision may delight believers in so-called paranormal events, but it is already mortifying scientists. Advance copies of the paper, to be published this year in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, have circulated widely among psychological researchers in recent weeks and have generated a mixture of amusement and scorn.
    __
    The paper describes nine unusual lab experiments performed over the past decade by its author, Daryl J. Bem, an emeritus professor at Cornell, testing the ability of college students to accurately sense random events, like whether a computer program will flash a photograph on the left or right side of its screen. The studies include more than 1,000 subjects.
    __
    Some scientists say the report deserves to be published, in the name of open inquiry; others insist that its acceptance only accentuates fundamental flaws in the evaluation and peer review of research in the social sciences.
    __
    “It’s craziness, pure craziness. I can’t believe a major journal is allowing this work in,” Ray Hyman, an emeritus professor of psychology at the University Oregon and longtime critic of ESP research, said. “I think it’s just an embarrassment for the entire field.”

    Sigh. It’s going to be a long year.

  58. 58
    DBrown says:

    Liberal – chelation treatment!? on a child!? I think she is being foolish (and I am on chelation treatment and I only too well understand the dangers (dangerous lost of calcium in the blood that can be rapidly fatal!))

    You need to talk to this woman and make damn sure she and her husband fully understand the extreme danger chelation treatment poses and what it does to blood chemistry and what happens if calcium levels drop below normal levels – just 20% below normal bottom levels is fatal for an adult (death can be rapid and unstoppable except by very fast and correct Med action.)

    I am targeting a 10% drop below the safe level and fully know my risk – dangerous but necessary – but I understand the danger signs, how to counter and I am havng blood tests done often to track the calcium levels – is she?

    This child has a terrible risk of harm or death – please tell this woman the dangers and that blood tests are critical and calcium levels MUST not be allowed to fall! You need to save this child’s life.

    If she does not know her child’s current Ca reading (and a measure of Iron and other metals/salts would be a good idea) and has not been tracking the levels, then she needs to stop and learn. Also, does she know the symptoms of low or dangerous calcium levels? And does the doctor know the CORRECT counter measures? That is critical because if the child crashes during or just after treatment, the wrong counter treatment will do far more harm – this is dangerous stuff and she must prove to herself that the MD knows all this and that his knowledge is correct.

    Also, the child needs to know what symptoms to be on guard for. Please intervene before a life is lost – that, at least, you can do! Good luck!

  59. 59
    Tim in SF says:

    Here is a FANTASTIC profile of Paul Offit, the inventor of at least one vaccination, or “Dr. Death,” depending on whether you’re relying on scientists or Playboy bunnies for guidance on the topic.

  60. 60
    daveinboca says:

    @Nick

    Seems like those parents who bought into Wakefield’s BS aren’t the only people in thrall to hard-held preconceived notions. Bit Pharma isn’t all bad and Bloomberg isn’t a complete asshole and the sanitation unions are full of assholes.

  61. 61
    Ohio Mom says:

    Every vaccine administered is as much for everyone else as it is for the person being immunized, especially when you consider there is a (albeit very small) risk that the individual receiving the vaccine may react negatively, even fatally. People who have to forego their vaccinations must depend on everyone else getting immunized so that a herd immunity will be created and the virus won’t be able to gain a foothold.

    It’s downright socialistic! Which is why, in the end, I think that being anti-vaccine is very right-wing.

  62. 62
    Janet Strange says:

    I’d just like to say thanks to mistermix and all y’all that weighed in with thoughtful comments and the great LINKS!

    I teach microbiology to future nurses. Most of my students are also parents. When I cover immunizations, I have to spend a significant amount of class time countering what Wakefield et al (and there’s a hell of a lot of et al blame to go around) have spawned, including the worries of some of the parents in the class.

    I’m going to use the info (yay great LINKS!) to make a tl;dr type post for the blog I keep for my classes where I can refer students who want to know more. I’ll post a link to it to an open thread when I get it done in case anyone wants a discussion and all of the links in one place. Y’know, just in case you have a friend or relative you’d like to show it to.

  63. 63
    Parallel 5ths (Jewish Steel) says:

    The zombie lie is trying to come to a theater near you:

    http://skepticalteacher.wordpr.....axxer-ass/

  64. 64
    Mike M says:

    I often hear parents worry about exposing their children to the effects of “too many vaccines, too soon” and decide to spread out the vaccinations. But although vaccines prompt an immune response, the vaccines for childhood illnesses do not contain a live virus and do not cause the target disease. Is there any evidence to suggest that spreading out the vaccination schedule is safer or more effective?

    Anyone who has small children must be aware that the children are constantly exposed to a variety of infections from other children at daycare, at school, and within their own family. Nature does not carefully sequence one’s exposure to childhood diseases.

    I’ve done extensive genealogy research on my extended family, and I was surprised to find how a single epidemic would wipe out all the young children in a family, three or more at a time. If you look through the death records for a town in the late 1800’s when they first started keeping records, it is shocking how many children died of disease. In my grandmother’s family, five of nine children died before the age of 5.

    We forget how far we’ve come.

  65. 65
    Neo says:

    @brantl: It’s a great story but it doesn’t fit together.
    To be banned for 20 years, it would have had to have been Bush 41, but 20 years ago, there was no Glaxo Smith Kline (only Glaxo and SmithKline).
    Lastly, Andrew Wakefield’s Lancet article in 1998 (obviously not 20 years) was the study that linked Thimerosol to autism, which is now exposed as a fraud according to the British Medical Journal. It’s pretty hard to hide a study that has been publicly published.

  66. 66
    Ab_Normal says:

    @brantl: For a rather… snarky take on the RFK article, see http://scienceblogs.com/insole.....ets_hi.php Respectful Insolence

  67. 67
    Dug says:

    @John S.:

    My family is pretty much in the same boat as yours. My awesome, funny, affectionate and super-bright 3 year old son also has autism, and thanks to early intervention and therapy it looks like he’ll be able to integrate into kindergarten as well. As parents, we thought we would be running on a flat track, but it turns out that our track has hurdles. So we must become good hurdlers. That’s all. Autism is not the worst thing that could have happened to my boy. Not by a long shot. But death by an easily preventable disease is.

    I am so incredibly tired of the Jenny McCarthys of the world reading one study (which fails peer review massively) and declaring themselves experts on autism, instantly qualified to dismiss the hard-won knowledge of people who have devoted their professional lives to this subject. They are no different from global warming deniers and may be causing as much or more harm. Science education in this country should start with teaching respect for scientists. When you politicize expertise, suddenly nobody’s an expert and nothing is worth learning.

  68. 68
    Efroh says:

    @Mike M: I often hear parents worry about exposing their children to the effects of “too many vaccines, too soon” and decide to spread out the vaccinations. But although vaccines prompt an immune response, the vaccines for childhood illnesses do not contain a live virus and do not cause the target disease. Is there any evidence to suggest that spreading out the vaccination schedule is safer or more effective?

    According to this article quoting Ari Brown, a spokeswoman for the AAP, apparently alternative vaccination schedules have never gone through clinical trials to test their efficacy vs. the standard schedule. I’m tempted to send this to my sister who’s spreading out the vaccinations for my nephew, but she’ll probably dismiss it because it appears in USA Today.

    Myth 4: It’s safe to “space out” vaccinations

    A growing number of parents are delaying vaccines to avoid giving their children several shots at once, sometimes because they’re afraid of inflicting unnecessary pain.

    But spacing out vaccines may actually cause children more distress, Offit says.

    Studies show that a child’s stress hormone levels peak after one shot. Because that one shot is so stressful, giving a child additional needle sticks doesn’t appreciably increase a child’s distress, he says. So children who receive one shot a month, instead of several at once, may actually have higher total stress levels.

    Postponing shots also leaves babies at risk, Brown says.

    The vaccination schedule developed by the CDC wasn’t developed “out of thin air,” Brown says. It’s based on research to “protect as many babies as soon as possible.”

    The “nasty little truth” to alternative schedules, on the other hand, is that they “are all fantasy,” Brown says. None of the alternative schedules has been clinically tested — the kind of evidence upon which the CDC relies.

    “There is absolutely no research that says delaying certain shots is safer,” Brown says. “Doctors who promote these schedules are simply guessing when to give which shots. What we know for certain is that delaying your child’s shots is playing Russian roulette.”

  69. 69
    Alix56 says:

    Doctors regularly pimp whatever pharmaceutical companies push on them (there’s a reason why every form you fill out is with a pen supplied by Pfizer), so their opinion can be clouded or compromised.

    Mr. Furious, I think you are wrong here in all but a few cases. Yes, pharma reps come and talk at (notice: not “to”) our MDs and NPs, but mostly all our providers want two things:

    The first is free medication so that our clients who don’t have much in the way of resources can get something for free. Since my major areas have been those where people are chronically ill (and often beggared by their disorders), the free drugs that reps bring are often lifesavers for people who don’t have insurance (or who have been dropped by their insurers).

    The second reason is that people who aren’t doing well on currently available medications might do better on something new. There’s really no reason to switch someone who’s doing well and has no complaints about the medication (exceptions to this might be if a medication or treatment offers a permanent cure or has other benefits…even then, your doc should DISCUSS all options with you, not “pimp” a medication). If this has been your experience, you should probably find another health care provider.

    This has been my experience in all the clinics and hospitals I’ve worked in over the past 25 years. I’ve never known an MD, DO, or NP to “pimp” a medication. Oh, and those pens? Are usually pretty crappy.

  70. 70
    Rihilism says:

    @Mike M: “Is there any evidence to suggest that spreading out the vaccination schedule is safer or more effective?”

    I believe it was Frontline’s “Vaccine Wars” that discussed a study of the “all up front” versus “staggered” vaccine methods and their possible link to autism. Neither showed a correlation to autism though the “link” to the staggered method was found to be slightly more positive (staggered had a slightly higher, but still non-significant correlation). Again, I believe this is what they said but I may have misremembered. I believe the program may be available on PBS online.

    Another item from the program (again, I think it was Frontline) worth noting is that the ages at which children recieve vaccines roughly corresponds to the ages during which children develop the first symptons of autism. In other words, it’s a breathtakingly tragic coincidence that has led many parents struggling with special needs children to seek something, anything to blame. It’s hard to argue with someone who has “seen with their own eyes” the degradation of their children’s lives shortly after a routine vaccination. Coincidence becomes cause and effect.

    Although I wish she would just admit that she is wrong before she does any additional harm, I can understand why Jenny McCarthey feels the way she does. As others have noted, if herd immunity falls below a certain level, the consequences could be catasrophic and Ms. McCarthey, RFK Jr., and others bear some responsibility if that occurs.

    The doctor, on the other hand, should be flogged, drawn and quartered…

  71. 71

    As far as I can Google up, no major UK paper, tabloid or broadsheet, except the Telegraph (and an agency-written he-said-she-said piece in the Independent) appears to have covered this. (The Telegraph, to their credit, has covered this well today, though the comments thread attached to the piece makes one despair). For years papers fed on this, promoting doubts about MMR vaccines by shamelessly slanted misreporting. Now that carefully documented evidence appears showing that the research behind those fears was not just ethically compromised but fraudulent there is silence. I can’t work out the extent to which this is driven by abysmal judgment on news priorities or legal fears over reprinting allegations of fraud.

  72. 72
    MTiffany says:

    I’m casually acquainted with the father of a young boy with autism, and he’s woven a whole story around his child’s illness that puts the blame on his child’s reaction to a vaccination.

    While I can empathize with the parents of autistic children and understand the very human need to have a answer for the question why and a narrative for the how, the perpetuation of the vaccine-as-causative-agent myth is simply inexcusable because of the very real harm it does when other people forgo vaccinating their own children out of confusion and misplaced fear.

  73. 73
    Wilson Heath says:

    @beltane:

    Why blame? I dunno, probably that people have an unholy fear of a non-ordered universe and as a corollary cannot accept that things are the fault of whatever deity they comfort themselves with because what good is it to have a deity that affirmatively makes bad things happen to you?

    As to “why not me?”, well, that’s part of why I’m not really on board with Mrs. Heath’s recent decision that she wants a kid. I have some notion of the range of things that can happen and even the prospect of a “normal,” healthy kid scares me s***less. I’m barely holding it together right now, and I have it pretty frakking good as things go. Unfortunately, this disagreement is probably on the list of risk factors for divorce along with those liberal refers to. Not good.

  74. 74
    brantl says:

    @Uloborus: No. This was investigated by RFK, Jr. whose judgement I trust. It was a study done by the CDC with a tremendous number of individuals in it. It was hidden by the Bush administration, it’s release secured by RFK, Jr. Look into it if you want, you don’t have to believe me.

  75. 75
    brantl says:

    @burnspbesq: Possible, but the Bush administration is famous for burying good science, too, aren’t they?

  76. 76
    brantl says:

    @Neo: Thimerosal was banned in cattle and feed animals’ vaccines before the study. It was banned in animal vaccines, and then it was voluntarily discontinued in human vaccines. The study came out quite some time after it was banned in animal vaccines. You are incorrect, sir.

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