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Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009 | ISSN 1556-5696

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In 2007 Skeptic magazine ran an article debunking the myth of the connection between vaccines and autism, and we were hoping that by now this sad tale of pseudoscience would have died a slow death as researchers continue to find no link whatsoever between the two. Sadly that is not the case. In fact, thanks to Playboy model Jenny McCarthy, mother of an autistic child, the myth has gained cultural traction as never before, as she and her partner, the comedian Jim Carrey, make the media rounds and appeal to the heart strings of the public, burying the science in a tsunami of emotion. So we return again to the topic with our SkepDoc, Harriet Hall, M.D., demolishing the myth once and for all.


Dr. Schreiber of San Augustine giving a typhoid innoculation at a rural school, San Augustine County, Texas (photo by: John Vachon, 1914–1975, Library of Congress archives)

Vaccines & Autism
A Deadly Manufactroversy

by Harriet Hall, MD, “The SkepDoc”

During a question and answer session after a talk I recently gave, I was asked for my opinion about the vaccine/autism controversy. That was easy: my opinion is that there is no controversy. The evidence is in. The scientific community has reached a clear consensus that vaccines don’t cause autism. There is no controversy.

There is, however, a manufactroversy — a manufactured controversy — created by junk science, dishonest researchers, professional misconduct, outright fraud, lies, misrepresentations, irresponsible reporting, unfortunate media publicity, poor judgment, celebrities who think they are wiser than the whole of medical science, and a few maverick doctors who ought to know better. Thousands of parents have been frightened into rejecting or delaying immunizations for their children. The immunization rate has dropped, resulting in the return of endemic measles in the U.K. and various outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. children have died. Herd immunity has been lost. The public health consequences are serious and are likely to get worse before they get better — a load of unscientific nonsense has put us all at risk.

The story is appalling. It involves high drama, charismatic personalities, conspiracy theories, accusations, intimidation, and even death threats. It would make a good movie. It does make a good book: Dr. Paul Offit has explained what happened in Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure.1 I can’t tell the whole story here, but I’ll try to cover the highlights as I understand them. I’ll include some new revelations that were not available to Offit when his book went to press. As I see it, there were 3 main stages to this fiasco:

  1. the MMR scare,
  2. the mercury/thimerosal scare, and
  3. the vaccines-in-general scare.
The MMR Scare

In 1998 a British doctor named Andrew Wakefield published an article in the respected medical journal The Lancet2. He did intestinal biopsies via colonoscopy on 12 children with intestinal symptoms and developmental disorders, 10 of whom were autistic, and found a pattern of intestinal inflammation. The parents of 8 of the autistic children thought they had developed their autistic symptoms right after they got the MMR vaccine. The published paper stated clearly: “We did not prove an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virological studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”

“Falsehood flies,
and the truth comes limping after.”
— Jonathan Swift

Despite this disclaimer, Wakefield immediately held a press conference to say the MMR vaccine probably caused autism and to recommend stopping MMR injections. Instead, he recommended giving the 3 individual components separately at intervals of a year or more. The media exploded with warnings like “Ban Three-in-One Jab, Urge Doctors.” The components were not available as individual vaccines, so people simply stopped immunizing. The immunization rate in the U.K. dropped from 93% to 75% (and to 50% in the London area). Confirmed cases of measles in England and Wales rose from 56 in 1998 to 1348 in 2008; two children died. In one small hospital in Ireland, 100 children were admitted for pneumonia and brain swelling caused by measles and three of them died. So, 14 years after measles had been declared under control in the U.K. it was declared endemic again in 2008.

Wakefield’s data was later discredited (more about that later) but even if it had been right, it wouldn’t have been good science. To show that intestinal inflammation is linked to autism, you would have to compare the rate in autistic children to the rate in non-autistic children. Wakefield used no controls. To implicate the MMR vaccine, you would have to show that the rate of autism was greater in children who got the vaccine and verify that autism developed after the shot. Wakefield made no attempt to do that.

His thinking was fanciful and full of assumptions. He hypothesized that measles virus damaged the intestinal wall, that the bowel then leaked some unidentified protein, and that said protein went to the brain and somehow caused autism. There was no good rationale for separating and delaying the components, because if measles was the culprit, wouldn’t one expect it to cause the same harm when given individually? As one of his critics pointed out: “Single vaccines, spaced a year apart, clearly expose children to greater risk of infection, as well as additional distress and expense, and no evidence had been produced upon which to adopt such a policy.”

item of interest…

This is a special issue on medical controversies including: the vaccine-autism myth; the trouble with psychiatry; animals and medicine, and a Harriet Hall article on reading medical research with a skeptical eye. ORDER the back issue

Wakefield had been involved in questionable research before. He published a study in 1993 where he allegedly found measles RNA in intestinal biopsies from patients with Crohn’s disease (an inflammatory bowel disease)3. He claimed that natural measles infections and measles vaccines were the cause of that disease. Others tried to replicate his findings and couldn’t. No one else could find measles RNA in Crohn’s patients; they determined that Crohn’s patients were no more likely to have had measles than other patients, and people who had had MMR vaccines were no more likely to develop Crohn’s. Wakefield had to admit he was wrong, and in 1998 he published another paper entitled “Measles RNA Is Not Detected in Inflammatory Bowel Disease.”4 In a related incident, at a national meeting he stated that Crohn’s patients had higher levels of measles antibody in their blood. An audience member said that was not true — he knew because he was the one who had personally done the blood tests Wakefield was referring to. Wakefield was forced to back down.

In 2002, Wakefield published another paper showing that measles RNA had been detected in intestinal biopsies of patients with bowel disease and developmental disorders.5 The tests were done at Unigenetics lab. Actually, Wakefield’s own lab had looked for measles RNA in the patients in the 1998 study. His research assistant, Nicholas Chadwick, later testified that he had been present in the operating room when intestinal biopsies and spinal fluid samples were obtained and had personally tested all the samples for RNA with a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. The results were all negative, and he testified that Wakefield knew the results were negative when he submitted his paper to The Lancet. Chadwick had asked that his name be taken off the paper. So the statement in the paper that “virologic studies were underway” was misleading. Virologic studies had already been done in Wakefield’s own lab and were negative. Wakefield was dissatisfied with those results and went to Unigenetics hoping for a different answer.

Soon Wakefield’s credibility started to dissolve. The Lancet retracted his paper. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, described the original paper as “fatally flawed” and apologized for publishing it. Of Wakefield’s 12 co-authors, 10 issued a retraction:

We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between (the) vaccine and autism, as the data were insufficient. However the possibility of such a link was raised, and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.

Attempts to replicate Wakefield’s study all failed. Other studies showed that the detection of measles virus was no greater in autistics, that the rate of intestinal disease was no greater in autistics, that there was no correlation between MMR and autism onset, and that there was no correlation between MMR and autism, period.

In 2001 the Royal Free Hospital asked Wakefield to resign. In 2003, Brian Deer began an extensive investigation6 leading to an exposé in the The Sunday Times and on British television. In 2005 the General Medical Council (the British equivalent of state medical licensing boards in the U.S.) charged Wakefield with several counts of professional misconduct.

One disturbing revelation followed another. They discovered that two years before his study was published, Wakefield had been approached by a lawyer representing several families with autistic children. The lawyer specifically hired Wakefield to do research to find justification for a class action suit against MMR manufacturers. The children of the lawyer’s clients were referred to Wakefield for the study, and 11 of his 12 subjects were eventually litigants. Wakefield failed to disclose this conflict of interest. He also failed to disclose how the subjects were recruited for his study.

Wakefield was paid a total of nearly half a million pounds plus expenses by the lawyer. The payments were billed through a company of Wakefield’s wife. He never declared his source of funding until it was revealed by Brian Deer. Originally he had denied being paid at all. Even after he admitted it, he lied about the amount he was paid. Before the study was published, Wakefield had filed patents for his own separate measles vaccine, as well as other autism-related products. He failed to disclose this significant conflict of interest. Human research must be approved by the hospital’s ethics committee. Wakefield’s study was not approved. When confronted, Wakefield first claimed that it was approved, then claimed he didn’t need approval. Wakefield bought blood samples for his research from children (as young as 4) attending his son’s birthday party. He callously joked in public about them crying, fainting and vomiting. He paid the kids £5 each.

The General Medical Council accused him of ordering invasive and potentially harmful studies (colonoscopies and spinal taps) without proper approval and contrary to the children’s clinical interests, when these diagnostic tests were not indicated by the children’s symptoms or medical history. One child suffered multiple bowel perforations during the colonoscopy. Several had problems with the anesthetic. Children were subjected to sedation for other non-indicated tests like MRIs. Brian Deer was able to access the medical records of Wakefield’s subjects. He found that several of them had evidence of autistic symptoms documented in their medical records before they got the MMR vaccine. The intestinal biopsies were originally reported as normal by hospital pathologists. They were reviewed, re-interpreted, and reported as abnormal in Wakefield’s paper.

All the reports of measles RNA in intestinal biopsies came from one lab, Unigenetics. Other labs tried to replicate their results and failed. An investigation revealed that:

  • Unigenetics found measles RNA with a test that should only detect DNA.
  • They failed to use proper controls.
  • The lab was contaminated with DNA from an adjoining Plasmid Room.
  • Duplicate samples that disagreed were reported as positive.
  • Positive controls were occasionally negative and negative ones positive.
  • The lab was never accredited.
  • It refused to take part in a quality control program.
  • When tested by an outside investigator, it failed to identify which coded samples contained measles virus.
  • The investigator said “I do not believe that there is any measles virus in any of the cases they have looked at.”
  • The lab is no longer in business.

So both Wakefield and his study have been completely discredited. He moved to the U.S. and is now working in an autism clinic. He has many followers who still believe he was right.

The Mercury/Thimerosal Scare

In 1998, U.S. legislation mandated measuring mercury in foods and drugs. The data came in slowly, and by 1999 the FDA had learned that infants could get as much as 187.5 mcg of mercury from the thimerosal in all their vaccines. They were concerned because mercury is toxic. Mercury poisoning caused the Minamata disaster in Japan; however, that was methylmercury and the mercury in vaccines was ethylmercury. The amount of mercury in vaccines was within recommended guidelines. EPA guidelines for permissible mercury exposure were based on methylmercury and were conservative — they were keyed to protect the most vulnerable patients, fetuses. There were no EPA guidelines for ethylmercury, but it was considered to be far less dangerous because it is eliminated more rapidly from the body.

Two mothers of autistic children published their own “research” saying that the symptoms of autism were identical to those of mercury poisoning.7 I don’t agree. You can look up the descriptions of mercury poisoning and autism and draw your own conclusions. I don’t see how anyone could confuse the two — their presentations are entirely different, with only a few symptoms that could be interpreted as similar.

Thimerosal is a preservative that allows vaccines to be sold in multi-dose vials. It contains ethylmercury. It was tested and found to be safe before it was added to vaccines. Animal studies showed no adverse effects. In 1929 in Indiana it was tested as a treatment in a meningitis outbreak — adults injected with 2 million mcg (10,000 times the total amount in all children’s vaccines) didn’t develop symptoms of mercury poisoning.

A study from the Seychelles showed that children getting high doses of methylmercury from fish did not develop neurologic symptoms. A study of children in the Faroes who were exposed in utero to whale meat highly contaminated with methylmercury showed subtle neurologic abnormalities (not autism), but a causal connection was not clear because the fish there were also contaminated with PCBs. The World Health Organization concluded:

The theoretical risk from exposure to thimerosal has to be balanced against the known high risk of having no preservative in vaccines. Therefore, WHO, UNICEF, the European Agency for Evaluation of Medicinal Products (EMEA), and other key agencies continue to recommend the use of vaccines containing this preservative because of the proven benefit of vaccines in preventing death and disease and the lack of data indicating harm.

In 1999 the U.S. removed thimerosal from vaccines. Why? The decision was not based on evidence but on one person’s opinion. Neal Halsey railroaded the committee and threatened to hold his own press conference if they didn’t do what he wanted. He meant well. His passion convinced the other committee members to invoke the precautionary principle — essentially bending over backwards to prevent any possible harm from a high total body burden of mercury from a combination of diet, environmental and vaccine sources. He didn’t even consider autism: he was only concerned about possible subtle neurologic damage.

They announced their decision in words guaranteed to confuse the public and create suspicion: “current levels of thimerosal will not hurt children, but reducing those levels will make safe vaccines even safer.” A 2007 editorial8 in The New England Journal of Medicine stated:

Although the precautionary principle assumes that there is no harm in exercising caution, the alarm caused by the removal of thimerosal from vaccines has been quite harmful. For instance, after the July 1999 announcement by the CDC and AAP, about 10 percent of hospitals suspended use of the hepatitis B vaccine for all newborns, regardless of their level of risk. [Because a thimerosal-free hepatitis B vaccine was not available.] One 3-month-old child born to a Michigan mother infected with hepatitis B virus died of overwhelming infection.

It went on to point out:

The notion that thimerosal caused autism has given rise to a cottage industry of charlatans offering false hope, partly in the form of mercury-chelating agents. In August 2005, a 5-year-old autistic boy in suburban Pittsburgh died from an arrhythmia caused by the injection of the chelating agent EDTA. Although the notion that thimerosal causes autism has now been disproved by several excellent epidemiologic studies, about 10,000 autistic children in the United States receive mercury-chelating agents every year.

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A further insanity has been perpetrated by the father-and-son team of Mark and David Geier. They claimed that autistics have premature puberty and high testosterone levels (there is no evidence that this is true). They hypothesized that testosterone forms sheet-like complexes with mercury in the brain (there is no evidence that this is true), preventing mercury’s removal by chelation. Their solution? They administered the drug Lupron to lower testosterone levels to supposedly facilitate mercury excretion. The treatment amounts to chemical castration.

Lupron is sometimes ordered by the courts to chemically castrate sex offenders, and it is used to treat precocious puberty and certain other medical conditions. It is not a benign drug. It can interfere with normal development and puberty and can put children’s heart and bones and their future fertility at risk. The treatment involves painful daily injections and costs $5000 to $6000 a month. The Geiers use 10 times the recommended dose. The company that makes Lupron does not support its use for this purpose.

Like Wakefield, the Geiers have been accused of professional misconduct. They built their own lab in their basement and formed their own institute to conduct Lupron studies. Then they formed their own Institutional Review Board (IRB) to approve studies. IRBs are required by law and must follow strict guidelines to ensure that studies are ethical and to protect the rights of subjects. The IRB they formed was illegal. They packed the board with friends and relatives: every single member of this IRB was either one of the Geiers, an anti-thimerosal activist, a Geier associate, or a lawyer suing on behalf of “vaccine-injured” clients. One was the mother of a child who was a subject in the research. Even worse, they let the principal investigator sit as the chair of the IRB overseeing his own research protocols. Oh, and the IRB wasn’t even registered until 2 years after the research was done.

Mark Geier has made a career of testifying as an expert witness in autism cases. He has not impressed the judges. Here are a few of the judge’s comments:

  • “Seriously intellectually dishonest”
  • “ … not reliable or grounded in scientific methodology and procedure … his testimony is subjective belief and unsupported speculation.”
  • “I cannot give his opinion any credence.”
  • “ … a professional witness in areas for which he has no training, expertise, and experience.”

When thimerosal was removed from vaccines, there were no studies showing that it was harmful. After its removal, study after study showed that it was not harmful. But activist groups didn’t let the new evidence interfere with their beliefs.

Anti-vaccine groups have viciously attacked medical doctors and researchers for simply stating what the current scientific evidence shows. They accuse them of being shills for “Big Pharma” or covering up for government agencies, and they call them offensive names; but they don’t stop there. They threaten people who write about the scientific evidence, and they threaten their children. Dr. Offit, the author of Autism’s False Prophets, received a direct death threat that got the FBI involved. He had to use a bodyguard and cancel a book tour. One threatening phone call ominously demonstrated that the caller knew Offit’s children’s names, ages, and where they went to school. Another scientist who received threats was so afraid for her children’s safety that she vowed never to write anything about autism again. One anti-vaccine activist had the bad grace to accuse science blogger Orac of lying when he said he was mourning his mother-in-law’s death from cancer. She refused to believe he could be sorry his mother-in-law died because he’s not sorry about supporting vaccines that kill children.

There was no thimerosal in any vaccine except the flu vaccine after 2002. The “mercury militia” expected autism rates to drop, thereby proving the mercury connection. Autism rates rose. Instead of relinquishing their belief, they made implausible attempts to implicate new sources of atmospheric mercury, from cremations of bodies with mercury amalgam fillings or from pollution wafted across the Pacific from China.

The Vaccines-In-General Scare

If the MMR scare can be attributed to Andrew Wakefield and the mercury scare to Neal Halsey, the next stage of hysteria is epitomized by Jenny McCarthy, actress and anti-vaccine activist extraordinaire.

Jenny’s son Evan is autistic. At first she subscribed to the fanciful notion that she was an Indigo mother and Evan was a Crystal child. Indigos are “difficult” children who are alleged to possess special traits or abilities such as telepathy, empathy, and creativity, and are said to represent the next stage in human evolution. Many of them fit the diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Crystal children represent an even more advanced evolutionary step. They are “so sensitive, so vulnerable to the world around them, that they go inward, disconnect as best they can from even humans and do their best to survive in a world where they really don’t yet fit.” They are often diagnosed as autistic.

After a while McCarthy gave up on that fantasy and accepted that Evan was autistic. She became convinced that vaccines had caused his autism. She treated him with unproven dietary restrictions, anti-yeast treatments, and supplements, and claims to have cured him. She thinks her “Mommy instincts” are more valid than science. She says “My science is Evan, and he’s at home. That’s my science.” She realizes that withholding vaccines will lead to the deaths of children. As quoted by Time magazine:

I do believe sadly it’s going to take some diseases coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe. If the vaccine companies are not listening to us, it’s their f___ing fault that the diseases are coming back. They’re making a product that’s s___. If you give us a safe vaccine, we’ll use it. It shouldn’t be polio versus autism.

She and her partner Jim Carrey have spoken out at every opportunity on talk shows, on the Internet, and through books and public appearances. When someone questions Jenny’s beliefs her usual tactic is to try to shout them down. She is supported by maverick doctor Jay Gordon, who values listening to parents over science and who supports a delayed vaccine schedule not because of any evidence but just because he thinks it’s a good idea. On one talk show, a pregnant mother with several autistic children tried to tell Gordon that her child who had the worst autism was the one who had not been vaccinated. He not only refused to listen to what she was saying but tried to drown her out, loudly insisting she mustn’t vaccinate the new baby.

A member of Quackwatch’s “Healthfraud” online discussion list reported sitting next to Evan’s paternal grandmother at a dinner. Grandma said Evan’s symptoms of autism were evident before he was vaccinated, and he is not doing as well as Jenny says. Grandma is writing her own book — I look forward to its revelations.

Jenny and her cohorts claim they are not anti-vaccine, but they are certainly a good facsimile thereof. The goalposts keep moving. First it was the MMR vaccine, then it was thimerosal, then it was mercury from all sources, then it was other vaccine ingredients, then it was too many vaccines, then it was giving vaccines too early. They will not be satisfied until science can offer a 100% safe and a 100% effective vaccine proven to have no side effects of any kind even in a rare susceptible individual. That’s not going to happen in this universe.

The other vaccine ingredients that have been questioned include formaldehyde, aluminum, ether, anti-freeze, and human aborted fetal tissue. Scientists have explained over and over that these ingredients are either not present in vaccines or are harmless, but activists ignore the facts and keep making the same false claims. Formaldehyde is harmless in small amounts and is even produced naturally in the human body. Aluminum is an adjuvant used to increase the efficacy of vaccines, and is not harmful. Ether might be used in the manufacturing process but is not present in the vaccines. There is no ethylene glycol or even diethylene glycol in vaccines. (Anti-freeze is ethylene glycol.) And to obtain enough virus to make a vaccine, the virus must be grown in tissue cultures that were originally derived from monkey, chicken, or sometimes human fetal cells; but there is no human or animal tissue of any kind present in the vaccine itself. Apple trees grow in soil, but there is no soil in applesauce.

Some anti-vaccine websites perpetuate the myth that infectious diseases were already disappearing and that the vaccines had nothing to do with it. Those myths are easily dispelled by historical data. Vaccine critics ignore the large body of evidence from incidents around the world where as the vaccination rate dropped, the rate of disease rose; and when the vaccination rate rose again, the disease rate dropped. No one can seriously deny the effectiveness of vaccines. They are the most impressive accomplishment of modern medicine.

item of interest…

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Giving up the known benefits of vaccines because of a vague hypothetical possibility of risk is a poor trade-off. We were able to eradicate smallpox, and we ought to be able to eradicate all the diseases that are spread solely by human-to-human contact. Once enough people have been vaccinated to eradicate the disease, no one will ever have to be vaccinated for that disease again. Smallpox is long gone; polio and measles are next on the list. Polio had been reduced to only 3 countries a few years ago. Then Nigeria stopped vaccinating due to rumors that the vaccines were an American plot to sterilize their children or give them AIDS. The polio rate soared and the disease broke out to several other countries, as far away as Malaysia.

When the rate of immunization reaches a certain level, the population is protected by what we call herd immunity. It means there are not enough susceptible people for the disease to keep spreading through a community. In many places the herd immunity has already been lost. It is only a matter of time before diseases break out again. One traveler from a country with polio could reintroduce the disease into the U.S. Lowered vaccination rates endanger even those who have been vaccinated, because the protection is not 100%. People who are immunosuppressed, chronically ill, or too young to have been vaccinated are also put at risk. Parents who choose to delay vaccination are prolonging their children’s period of risk. And they are endangering everyone else’s public health.

Scientists had been urged to “listen to the parents.” They did listen to the parents and then conducted research to test the parents’ hypotheses. There were various kinds of studies in different countries by different research groups. The results were consistent:

  • 10 studies showed MMR doesn’t cause autism
  • 6 studies showed thimerosal doesn’t cause autism
  • 3 studies showed thimerosal doesn’t cause subtle neurological problems

Now it’s the parents who won’t listen to the scientists.

Autistic children and their parents are being misled and victimized with useless, untested, disproven, expensive, time-consuming, and even dangerous treatments. Despite the evidence that mercury doesn’t cause autism, children are still being treated with IV chelation to remove mercury — at least one child has died as a result. Along with Lupron injections for chemical castration, children are being treated with secretin, restricted diets, supplements of all kinds, intravenous hydrogen peroxide, DAN (Defeat Autism Now) protocols, cranial manipulation, facilitated communication, and other nonsense. One family was strongly urged to take out a second mortgage on their home so they could buy a home hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

The real tragedy is that all this hoopla is diverting attention from research into effective treatments (usually behavioral) and into the real causes of autism (almost certainly genetic, with environmental triggers not ruled out).

An anti-anti-vaccine backlash is now afoot. Outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases are being reported. Scientists are speaking out. Blogs like Respectful Insolence and Science-Based Medicine have covered the subject in depth. The Chicago Tribune published an exposé of the Geiers.9 Even Reader’s Digest has contradicted Jenny. They said that vaccines save lives and do not cause autism and they stressed that the science is not on Jenny’s side. Let us hope that sanity will prevail before too many more children die from vaccine-preventable diseases. They are dying now. The Jenny McCarthy Body Count webpage is keeping track of the numbers.

References
  1. ^ Offit, Paul. 2008. Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure. Columbia University Press.
  2. ^ Wakefield A.J., et al. 1998. “Ileal-Lymphoid-Nodular Hyperplasia, Non-Specific Colitis, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder in Children.” Lancet 351: 637:41.
  3. ^ Wakefield A.J., et al. 1993. “Evidence of Persistent Measles Virus Infection in Crohn’s Disease.” Journal of Medical Virology, 39: 345–53.
  4. ^Chadwick N., et al. 1998. “Measles Virus RNA is Not Detected in Inflammatory Bowel Disease Using Hybrid Capture and Reverse Transcription Followed by the Polymerase Chain Reaction.” J Med Virol., 55(4):305–11.
  5. ^ Uhlmann V., et al. 2002. “Potential Viral Pathogenic Mechanism for New Variant Inflammatory Bowel Disease.” Mol Pathol, 55(2):84–90.
  6. ^ Details can be found on Brian Deer’s website: http://briandeer.com/wakefield-deer.htm
  7. ^ Bernard S., et al. 2001. “Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning.” Med Hypotheses 56:462–71.
  8. ^ Offit, Paul. 2007. “Thimerosal and Vaccines: A Cautionary Tale.” NEJM 357:1278-9, Sept. 27.
  9. ^ Tsouderos, Trine. 2009. “‘Miracle Drug’ Called Junk Science.” The Chicaco Tribune, May 21. Available online at http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-autism-lupron-may21,0,242705.story?page=1

Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs

Mass extinctions, rising temperatures, and changing glaciers may sound like current events, but Earth scientists are learning that this type of climate change is nothing new.

This week on Skepticality, Swoopy talks with Dr. Donald R. Prothero about his new book Greenhouse of the Dinosaurs: Evolution, Extinction, and the Future of Our Planet. Prothero discusses the links between the climate changes that have occurred over the past 200 million years. He contrasts the extinctions that ended the Cretaceous period (and wiped out the dinosaurs) with those of the later Eocene and Oligocene epochs.

Dr. Prothero also discusses “Ida,” a 47-million year old fossil the media is hailing as yet another “missing link.” Is Ida all she is hyped up to be — or is this Darwinius masillae just one more transitional fossil supporting the theory of evolution?


National History Museum

lecture this Friday…

Shermer on Darwin at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles
Friday June 5

Michael Shermer will be lecturing on Why Darwin Matters, twice the same evening, at 6pm and 7:30pm, Friday June 5, at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. Check out the cool poster they made for their First Fridays lecture series.

VISIT nhm.org for more information


Michael Dowd

lecture this Sunday…

Thank God for Evolution

with Michael Dowd

Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 2:00 pm
Baxter Lecture Hall (map)

READ more about this lecture >

READ about our other upcoming lectures >


Darwinian Psychology Goes Mainstream

In this week’s SkepticBlog, Michael Shermer shares his experience at the 21st annual conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) — the official organization of evolutionary psychologists and champions of applying Darwinian thinking to human psychology.

READ the post and comment on it at Skepticblog.org >

While you’re there be sure to read the blog posts of the other Skepticbloggers: Brian Dunning, Kirsten Sanford, Mark Edward, Phil Plait, Ryan Johnson, Steven Novella, and Yau-Man Chan.

42 Comments »

42 Comments

  1. Alexandre says:

    I do consider it exaggerated the homage you pay to Darwin omitting Wallace´s contributions to the origin of species. I would think that skeptics should be more cautious in their media-serving bias. Only in the latter part of his life Darwin was a scientist indeed. Before that he was more a hardworker of science than an illuminated scientist. AES

  2. Janice says:

    Wow, Dr. Hall, thank you for that fantastic article on vaccines!

    It is so “easy to read”, and packed full of clear information (and references) that I can pass it on to anti-vaccine people that I know and they will actually be able to read and understand it.

  3. Susan says:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bloodletting

    Bloodletting is one example of why some humans are skeptical of the medical community.

    Is the following excerpt true?

    excerpt: When the rate of immunization reaches a certain level, the population is protected by what we call herd immunity. It means there are not enough susceptible people for the disease to keep spreading through a community

    • JohnM, Limerick says:

      Bloodletting as a generic cure was from a less medically enlightened era and as such, I don’t really care about it. There have been some very real problems with medical ethics in the past (and probably the present), for example the Tuskegee Experiments up to the 1970s (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tuskegee_Study_of_Untreated_Syphilis_in_the_Negro_Male) or the experiments listed here … http://www.rbs2.com/humres.htm).

      However, since the 1930s, medical science has given us effective treatments for infections, sublimely effective vaccinations for polio, M.M.R. etc, , improved surgical interventions, better diagnostic test, proven causes and treatments for cancers and other ailments, transplants… the list is almost endless.

      It is an activity with humans involved, so there will always be sharp practice, unethical behaviour, fraud, malice, incompetence, laziness and so on, just like in any other human endeavour. The hope is that the check and balances will eventually find the faults and correct them.

      Regarding herd immunity, herd immunity is real though I suggest you search Google for more information. There are different levels of herd immunity for different diseases, depending (I suppose) on the mechanisms and infectiousness of a disease. There are ethical considerations for herd immunity too. Is it ethical to insist that (for instance) all males are given the rubella or the HPV vaccine to promote herd immunity when the conditions only have serious effects for females?

      Personally, I think that for the good of society it is ethical but it’s still a valid question that every informed society must ask, consider and answer.

      Excellent article, btw.

      I recommend a wikipedia article about Jonas Salk’s involvement in the polio vaccine, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Salk#Joining_fight_against_polio and an article about herd immunity http://www.nytimes.com/2007/01/25/opinion/25allen.html

  4. Harold L Doherty says:

    The IACC (the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee) and the NVAC have both recommended more research of possible vaccine-autism connections. Former NIH head Dr. Bernadine Healy has stated twice that the epidemiological studies are not specific enough to address the effect of vaccine ingredients or vaccine schedules on vulnerable population subsets and that the clinical/lab studies which have not been done to date, and which were discouraged by the 2004 IOM report on vaccine and autism should be done. Dr. Julie Gerberding and Dr. Duane Alexandre have also stated that vaccinated and unvaccinated observation studies could and should be done.

    Dr. Jon Poling is a neurologist and father of an autistic daughter who successfully pursued a vaccine damage claim on behalf of his daughter (the government settled as wise litigants do when the evidence does NOT support them). Dr. Poling has called for more research on the issue.

    The recommendations of these credible medical people have essentially been endorsed in the IACC and NVAC recommendations.

    A true skeptic, as your blog title indicates you are, would ask whether the epidemiological studies “the 14″, indeed constitute good science.

    Regardless, if the study recommendations of the IACC and NVAC are carried out then the safety of vaccines may be confirmed or it may be shown that they are not in deed as safe as they are touted by aggressive pro-vaccine lobbyists. Either way public safety will benefit much more from the actual research of these issues then by pompous statements that the vaccine autism issue has been absolutely disproven. A position which is false and which a true skeptic should be ashamed to advance.

  5. Dora says:

    I am skeptical about vaccines. There is not a cure all. The human is designed to use its natural ability to fight against bacteria that invade the body. Idealistically vaccines may have been a good idea. However not all imune systems are created equal. Exposure for some is not harmful to others it is deadly. The cases of people contracting Polio for instance is likely due to a weak immune system and exposure to the vaccine via lets say poopy baby diaper from a child who has been recently vaccinated. Even though the attending adult may have also been vaccinated at some point in life that person may not still be immune nor were they ever. If you read statistical reports etc. You might discover on your own accord that the Polio vaccine actually became available in masses after the decline of the decease and test studies proved that likely hood of contracting the decease was not anymore likely in those who have not been vaccinated. I am skeptical about the billions of dollars the medical profession gains by supporting pharmasutical companies. So who has the most to gain financially by vaccinating millions of people. What does a skeptical non vaccinator have to gain financially. Do you think Jenny McCarthy just wanted to write a book or did she actually see how this thing called Autism is occuring in such a high number of children. Have humans always had this many people per ratio with this disorder? I think your doctor is an optomist about vaccines instead of a skeptic she is trying desperately to defend it instead of actually pointing out critical information. That would give her much more credit as actually being skeptical about the whole subject. Is she a scientist? Did she actually perform test studies to come to her conclustion? I am not a doctor. I am a 48 year old mother of 3 grown children. I have never been vaccinated & my children have never been vaccinated & my grandchildren have never been vaccinated. I go to MD’s I am an Atheist. I occassionally take synthetic medications. However I have the tenasity to question simplistic explainations. I was also raised to be kind of analytical. My father a Chiropractor retired and Sort of a Jack Lalane type. Pioneer in the Fitness business who is 86 years old. On the 1st graduating alumni of Cleveland Chiropratic College. Who was introduced to the idea of the negative effects of vaccine in the early 1950′s by Dr. Cleveland. Dr. Cleveland was also a state rep supporting civil right not to vaccinate. He was instructed to do a indepth statical study and discovered that Statically vaccines are not proven to prevent an on set of the deceases they are designed to prevent. Infact your chances of getting some side affects or the decease it self is equally as great if not greater by being vaccinated. The government has even created the “Vaccination Compensation Act”. His theory still holds true. There are others who have taken it upon themselves who were once believers in vaccines to study there are books out there that contain information that I have been blessed with since a small child. People are like sheep they want a cure all and their doctors who are of limited knowledge & benefit from selling it to their patients. Many people don’t even know they have a constitutional right to refuse vaccine because optomistic sheep have had it drilled into their brains since they were old enough to cry from conditioning when they knew the doctor was gonna give them a shot that was suppose to be good for them. They think that they have no rights to refuse it. They don’t even know the laws regarding vaccine and kids in public school. People have been brain washed regarding vaccine instead of researching it an making decisions based on the pros and cons of it. Enough said. I am not a scientist. So read published information. Look up the scientist who invented them. Read their studies. Be your own judge go with skepticism. Do not feel guilty if you have changed your attitude about harmful side effects. If you become skeptical of the Doctor. The put herself out there. I am sure she is accustom to defending this weak arguement of hers. No disrespect to her. I do not vaccinate for the same reason others do. I want to protect my children from harmful dibiletating drugs and deceases. Pardon any type errors.

    • Helena says:

      It shard to know how to reply to someone like Dora who doesn’t seem to have a sufficient understanding of the issue to form an opinion (for example if she thinks that vaccines protect against bacteria, or that polio was commonly contracted by parents from children who received the vaccine, or that chiropracty is an analytical science, there isn’t much basis for discussion). She quotes out many ridiculous tropes that are completely unsupported by evidence (such as the decline in infectious disease predating vaccination), but I would like to address one of those that I don’t see refuted often enough, clearly enough, namely the pharma shill nonsense.

      Pharmaceutical companies do not like to make vaccines. They do not make much money from it and they are exposed to terrible risk if a class action suit were ever successful against them. They would not make them unless the government forced them to do so (in part by shielding them from nuisances suits). They are not motivated to make vaccines from motives of profit. If there was a conspiracy of pharmaceutical companies it would be to stop making vaccines.

      Dora seems to think McCarthy is motivated by something other that the love of fame and money. To suggest that she was motivated by some unique awareness of the epidemiology of autism is among the most ridiculous things Dora says.

      Dora does, however, point out something that the skeptical blogging community might look into, namely the rash of anti-vaccination propaganda in the 1950s (I’ve information about this to Orac before be he hasn’t done anything with it). One gets the impression that all this began with Wakefield, and I suppose in one sense it did, but in another sense it did not and that fact is rarely mentioned or explained. The most interesting question is, why did it fail then?

      • mike glogan says:

        Dora knows as much about bacteria as you do about chiropracty.

        But i guess my point is why challenge that someone doesn’t know a topic when you probably don’t know one either?

        Are you the CEO of a Pharmaceutical company?

        I think Dora’s opinion is clear. She, However, requests that you don’t take anyone’s word for it. Do the reading. Research the topics. Find a double blinded study that shows the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.

        Anyone who claims that vaccines are effective because “we saw them work” are using the same logic parents (of autistic children) use when they witnessed changes in their children after vaccination.

        If you choose to trust pharmaceutical companies, that’s your business. Past editors of the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal or the American Medical Assoc. did not. Three different editors tried to control researchers with conflicts of interests from corrupting journals with junk science. They resigned because it was too difficult.

        By the way, it’s Chiropractic. The information that chiropractors study is the same information any other doctor studies.

        • Markus says:

          Chiropractitioners do not study the same things a medical doctor studies,
          Look up Quackwatch on the pseudo-scientific principles of your backcracking profession.

          • mike glogan says:

            Hilarious. An ejournal dedicated to critical thinking is a haven for people to be small minded. This forum reads like an editorial from the Hillbilly Gazette.

            The generalization you are poorly trying to make that would be like me making the generalization that people named Markus don’t study spelling the way the rest of the population does.

            “quackwatch” is your trump card? Seriously? The U.S. Dept. of Education and 50 State Licensing Boards and schools all over the world disagree with you.

            If you want to watch quacks start studying iatrogenic disease.

      • mike glogan says:

        “for example if she thinks that vaccines protect against bacteria”

        That is almost as silly as thinking that a vaccine protects you against cancer.

        Where do people get these crazy ideas?

  6. Guy Webber says:

    Harriet,

    Thank you for an excellent article highlighting the lack of rigour and understanding of the anti-vaccine lobby. Their uninformed advocacy has cost lives. However I take you to task on the use of the phrase “the scientific community has reached a clear consensus”.

    Science does not achieve a consensus. It assesses experiment, data and observation with regard to testing a hypothesis. It then draws a conclusion which may, at any time and in the face of new data or observation, lend further support to a hypothesis, or cause it to be modified or rejected. It never reaches a consensus, nor should it. It never “proves” a hypothesis – although it can disprove one. Science is not based on opinion (ie: consensus). This is its great strength, allowing it to reject even widely held thinking (sometimes false or delusional) in favor of that which is true.

    It is sufficient to state that the data is in and the conclusion is that vaccination does not cause autism.

  7. Stacy Bird says:

    I have been reading web and newspaper articles concerning the possible link between autism and childhood vaccination, as well as listening to the debate on radio and internet programs. As the mother of two boys diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, this issue is of real interest to me, yet, given time constraints, I cannot hope to read every research paper and book written on the topic, and even if I did, it seems that experts violently disagree as to the meaning of the statistics used, which is hardly reassuring. Parents like me rely on scientists to present evidence calmly and objectively, but the level of vitriol and distrust that this debate has created is approaching that of religious wars. Both sides are using emotional arguments to prove their case, pointing out conflicts of interest and unethical behaviors in their opponents in order to win points, which suggests a level of desperation bordering on hysteria. That, at least, is my impression.

    This entire debate began because there has been a sharp increase in autism. Both sides seem to agree on that premise, though I am not sure why. I do not have any training in statistics, but I would like to play devil’s advocate and point out a potential reason to question that assumption. Both my children have been diagnosed with Asperger’s/ADHD and over the past almost 17 years, there has not been a single difficulty faced by my boys that I did not recognize from my own childhood or from stories told by my husband and his family. The genetic link between what my children have experienced and what my husband and I lived with is impossible to miss and we are not alone. I frequently chat with families whose kids are on the autism spectrum, and parents are often able to point to symptoms in themselves, their partners, and in grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. Many parents in the autism community believe that we would have been diagnosed as kids, had there been any idea that high functioning autism existed when we were growing up. As it is, no numbers for us exist. Wouldn’t that affect the accuracy of statistics gathered today?

    Families like my own are being conveniently left out of the current debate, and I can’t help but think that we pose a problem to those who are convinced that vaccinations are dangerous. It is not a medical conspiracy to suggest that the increase in autism may be due to greater awareness, not only of autism-like symptoms, but also of the efficacy of early interventions. The current eagerness to spot children in difficulty cannot help but increase the rate of diagnosis. More importantly, when statistics are used to prove a surge in autism, do they include children who are mildly affected? If so, then I think we need to seriously reconsider the idea that we are facing a crisis. During my childhood, I never once found myself sitting in a psychologist’s office even though my behavior was severe enough that, despite my above average intelligence, it was recommended that I repeat Grade 1. I continued to be socially inept and difficult throughout my teenage years, but while my behavior alarmed my parents, they never sought outside advice. If I had been born after 1992, I may have received social skills training and occupational therapy. But in the sixties and seventies, my problems were blamed on immaturity, and the only cure for that was to grow up. Authority figures, whether at school or at home, responded to unacceptable behavior with useless punishments, by holding students back a year or, if one was lucky, by ignoring it. For the most part, kids like me were avoided and no reference to us exists.

    Instead of devoting so much money and intelligence to proving whether or not vaccinations are the cause of autism, I would rather we discovered how best to nurture children who are unable to cope with social stress and stimulation. We are, as a society, in a period of transition during which gender roles, home environment and even the idea of what constitutes playtime for children are undergoing massive change, and kids are always the most sensitive to upheaval. That fact alone might account for some of the behavior problems that teachers and parents are reporting. Even in the more relaxed world of the sixties, I was unable to cope with the pressure to make friends or to function within the confines of school, and I cannot imagine how I would survive today’s educational system where social and organizational skills are more highly prized than curiosity. When I was growing up, my afternoons were spent staring for hours at nothing in particular, lost in inner space — not battling endless school projects or locked in a car on my way to enrichment activities. Nowadays, few kids are left to their own devises and odd behavior quickly raises alarms. Back in the bad old days, I was so often left alone that few adults were ever aware of just how strange I could be.

    So, taking into account a story like mine — is autism really on the rise, or are we simply paying more attention to our kids than any other generation of parents? I don’t have an answer to that question, but before any more figurative mud is thrown, I wish others would hesitate before drawing such a conclusion. No one is being helped by this war.

    • Andres Villarreal says:

      You have good points, but you must understand one thing about statistics: they are about counting things in the real world and then analyzing the results; if you cannot count those things reliably, any statistic is misleading or even downright false.

      Nobody can count the number of autism cases reliably since we still have no surefire definition or diagnostic for autism. In fact, autism is a whole family of diseases and character traits that we are just now starting to understand. During the last few decades we went from counting only the classic “savants” as autistic to the current diagnostic guidelines where many subtly impaired children are considered autistic. Is the disease spreading, or is the diagnostic broadening? It is currently impossible to know.

  8. [...] After some thought, I realized I could contribute something useful. I could organize the highlights into a concise and accessible story. While it awaits publication in the magazine, Michael Shermer elected to pre-publish it in the e-Skeptic newsletter. You can read it here. [...]

  9. thomas says:

    Stacy, you make an excellent point. It’s a very lucid observation and it applies to many conditions that are apparently on the rise.

    Dora, perhaps you could cite these studies? Perhaps if you apply the same skepticism to your own sources as you do towards Dr. Hall’s apparently “weak” arguments – you would feel differently? Then again, maybe not. But a citation would be nice. We could all then read the source of your own claims and judge for ourselves their veracity.

    Harold – “pompous statements that the vaccine autism issue has been absolutely disproven” – look, do you really need it pointed out to you that calling her well cited, comprehensive article a “pompous statement” does you no favours?
    I haven’t read the recommendations you refer to. Perhaps you could link me? I’d like to evaluate what is said direectly rather than rely on an interpretation of someone who blithley dismisses thoughtful communication as pompous

  10. Richard says:

    I can not thank you enough for this article. It should be required reading for every parent and soon to be parent.

  11. diatom says:

    The mark of a true skeptic is the ability and willingness to perform due diligence.

    1) “Herd immunity has been lost.” How much and attributable to what? With current US kindergarten vaccine coverage at about 95% according to the CDC, it must be the vast majority of undervaccinated adults threatening herd immunity (children aged 0-18 account for only about 25% of the US population, according to the US Census Bureau). According to the CDC, only 2% of adults are boostered against Pertussis. Vaccine proponents should put at least as much emphasis on vaccinating adults (75% of the population) as they do on vaccinating infants and children.

    2) “We were able to eradicate smallpox, and we ought to be able to eradicate all the diseases that are spread solely by human-to-human contact.” There are widely differing opinions on the feasibility of disease eradication. The textbook Vaccines by Plotkin, Orenstein, Offit (2008) Chapter 71 “Community Immunity” states this on the subject of Measles elimination efforts “the effort and resources to achieve this are considerable, and it is by no means clear that it would be either logistically feasible, economically sensible, or politically wise to attempt eradication on a global scale.”

    3) “Some anti-vaccine websites perpetuate the myth that infectious diseases were already disappearing and that the vaccines had nothing to do with it.” How much of the credit can be given to vaccines? To understand this issue requires an examination of US vital statistics data for the 20th century as published by the US census bureau. This means look at the raw data yourself, the CDC & other vaccine proponents consistently present only selective data which begins around 1950. Several childhood diseases experienced reductions in morbidity and mortality rates on the order of 75-95% from about 1900 to 1940-1950, prior to vaccine development. If you look back to 1850 the declines are even more dramatic. Vaccines may have hastened the decline, but the vast majority of the decline occurred in the pre-vaccine era.

    4) Please, a link to the Jenny McCarthy Bodycount website, in Skeptic magazine? That must be a new low. I have no interest in defending celebrities, but I do believe in free speech and I am skeptical of vaccine proponents condoning irrational accusations in the name of pseudo-moral righteousness. Taking a look at the Jenny website does reveal a modicum of rationality in the form of an apparent legal disclaimer at the bottom of the webpage “Is Jenny McCarthy directly responsible for every vaccine preventable illness and every vaccine preventable death listed here? No. However, as the unofficial spokesperson for the United States anti-vaccination movement she may be indirectly responsible for at least some of these illnesses and deaths and even one vaccine preventable illness or vaccine preventable death is too many.” Are celebrities responsible for iatrogenically caused deaths resulting from botched cosmetic surgery as well, and for all the bulimics and anorexics of the world? Those who emulate celebrities are doing so of their own accord. However, by the same token, as official spokespersons for the vaccine movement, US pharmaceutical companies, CDC, vaccine developers and physicians may be indirectly responsible for at least some vaccine related injuries and deaths.

    5) “Aluminum is an adjuvant used to increase the efficacy of vaccines, and is not harmful.” However, the ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry) has not assigned a MRL (minimum risk level) for injected aluminum, as they have for orally ingested aluminum. Another uncertainty regarding vaccine safety: none of the routine childhood vaccines are tested for carcinogenesis, mutagenesis or impairment to fertility. Read the vaccine package inserts.

  12. JC says:

    diatom,
    thank you for a very thoughtful and eloquent response to this article.

    It seems that the “skeptics” are limited to skepticism of so-called “pseudo-science” and motherly instincts. I would like to see a healthy dose of skepticism about our western allopathic method of raging war against pathogens at the expense of the rest of the body. I am sure there are many mistakes made on both sides of the vaccine debate but can we please remember that these are actual real live people we are talking about? Not just numbers. People with different reactions, physical and emotional to everything we encounter in our lives.
    There is no magic bullet and I don’t think there is an evil conspiracy either. I do think that it is possible that there are non-medical cures for autism and that there are many (certainly not all of them) greed- and power-driven researchers, doctors, and big-pharma CEOs. Instead of making sweeping statements that are hurtful (on both sides) can we work to help these autistic children? Can we respect the instincts of parents? Can we allow for differing circumstances? Can we stop forcing and scaring parents to vaccinate?

    Why are parents desires and beliefs any less important than science? What we see as fact today will in 100 years appear ridiculous I’m sure. I think there is too much arrogance on the side of the academia/scientists/doctors and not enough respect given to the parents. We are the ones who have to live with the results of medical mistakes and mis-information on both sides of the debate.
    Can you set aside your personal agendas and do some real work?

    Perhaps this quote from my 7 year old daughter’s chapter book can make some people pause:
    “But as sometimes happens when we are afraid we are in the wrong she took refuge in being cross”
    From “Carbonel The King of The Cats”

    Let’s stop being afraid of being in the wrong and getting angry about it and start working for the children.

  13. student says:

    I stumbled across this website during research for a uni assignment… and how glad I am that I did! This type of debate is exactly what I will come across every day once I graduate and it is so informative to read all your opinions.
    I am also thankful that most of you picked up on the half-hearted-skeptic who publishes this blog – I mean come on, you are picking which bits you want to be skeptical about, and are just eloquently towing the mainstream line that anything that questions the dominant paradigm must be baloney. Boring!
    I hope that I am far more of a true scientist in my work – and far more inquisitive, open and imaginative too.

  14. Harriet Hall says:

    I would like to clear up three issues:
    (1)The apparent rise in autism is not due to an actual increase in the disease. Statisticians and scientists have determined that the apparent rise is due to a combination of several factors. There is more awareness of autism, it is being diagnosed more, the diagnosis has enlarged to include Asperger’s and other autism spectrum disorders that were not originally counted, children who were previously diagnosed as mentally retarded or schizophrenic are now recategorized as autistic, and statistics are skewed by a tendency to categorize children so that they will be eligible for certain special education programs and other services. For those who want to learn more, Roy Grinker’s “Unstrange Minds” gives all the details.
    (2) Anyone who has followed my writing knows that I fully realize that science never claims to have absolute knowledge. When I say “vaccines don’t cause autism” I mean, of course, that there is no evidence that vaccines cause autism, and that the subject has been studied sufficiently that it is not reasonable to do more studies at this point.
    (3) Not even the person who set up the Jenny McCarthy Body Count website imagines she is solely responsible. But since she has set herself up as the public face of anti-vaccine propaganda, she was chosen as a symbol for the deaths from preventable diseases.

    I won’t respond to some of the other negative comments except to say that they repeat false information and faulty reasoning that have been debunked elsewhere, and that those who value their instincts over the scientific process are on the wrong website.

    • Stacy Bird says:

      Thank you for the book suggestion. I will try to find it.

    • Stacy Bird says:

      I found a section of “Unstrange Minds,” by Roy Grinker at Google Books. have been looking for a work of this depth and compassion for a long time, and I beg everyone here to please read the excerpt.

      Thank you so much for leading me to this.

  15. diatom says:

    A celebrity as a symbol for death. I don’t understand the rationale for a moral/religious/literary symbol with regard to vaccination. It is decidely unscientific.

  16. diatom says:

    My point is that a celebrity as a symbol of death with regard to vaccination IS appealing to instincts, not to the scientific process. Time and Newsweek magazine are better forums for fear campaigns.

  17. diatom says:

    “They are dying now. The Jenny McCarthy Body Count webpage is keeping track of the numbers.” These appear to be statements of fact, not literary hyperbole. Whatever you call it, the use of hyperbole of this nature in this forum on this topic is deplorable and irrational.

  18. kennwrite says:

    The article `Vaccines & Autism’ by Harriet Hall is one of the best ever published by Skeptic. I am particularly fond of her statement that scientists listened to parents and conducted studies [which demonstrated that autism is not caused by "secret" ingredients in vaccines], yet parents do not listen to scientists who publish results. Unfortunately, the myth goes on that those “evil” scientists are out to get us, that they opprobriously rub their scheming hands together with the sole universal purpose to wipe us unsuspecting sheep off the face of the earth. Oh, those scientists … .

  19. Larian LeQuella says:

    Whoah, how did I miss this article! Great one!

    Should any of you need more ammunition for combating the anti-vax pro-disease nutters, feel free to use this information as well (in convenient bullet format): http://factsnotfantasy.com/vaccines.html

  20. Douglas Swehla says:

    Given the disproportionate occurrence of autism in males, it has long been suspected that aspects of the disorder(s) are sex-linked, and therefore genetic. Some new evidence to support that hypothesis:

    “Scientists in Japan have tweaked the chromosomes of mice to make the animals act autistically. The engineered rodents display genetic impairments and behavior that mirror those of some humans with the disorder.”

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/60-second-science/post.cfm?id=changing-a-chromosome-makes-mice-au-2009-06-26

  21. Douglas Swehla says:

    Clarification:
    I don’t know if the research referred to in the article points to autism being sex-linked (requires subscription access). The article doesn’t address it directly. I meant to say that there is support for the idea of autism being a genetic condition.

  22. pete says:

    Ah, more pseudoscience junk to comfort junk to placate doctors minds so they can look at parents with a straight face and tell them that their son/daughter who came down with autism (or a host of other diseases) immediately after vaccination, that it wasn’t really because of the vaccination.

    But some of us parents haven’t bought the LIES. Our children are visibly HEALTHIER and SMARTER for not having had the vaccines.

    So keep churning out this junk to comfort yourselves while you wreck this holocaust upon unsuspecting parents and children.

  23. George Greek says:

    One thing is for sure. More than ever, we live in a day and age of CONFLICTING CLAIMS. Which truly makes it all the harder for the average mom or dad (of these children) to sort through the debates, claims, and jargon, in order to form an accurate opinion, or better yet, to actually reach the TRUTH. Fact is, after years of reading the pros and cons of both sides, I CAN’T! In the meantime, my wife and I are doing the absolute best we can to help our 4 year old daughter who was diagnosed with Asperger’s. We certainly do not want her to ‘fall through the cracks’ like my 46 year old brother has. He was only recently diagnosed, and had NO support system that could guide, direct, or help him like current kids on the spectrum do. I truly hope there will be more massive INDEPENDENT research initiatives on Autism, that are not beholden or tied into special interests. Our children (and we) deserve this.

  24. Billy says:

    I might point out that simply by looking at charts on disease mortality and see where vaccines were introduce it is easy to understand the vaccines have realy saved NO lives. Here is one link for your viewing pleasure.

    http://homepage.ntlworld.com/clifford.g.miller/risks.html

    It is funny that some people take it for granted that vaccines are the good and need no scientific backup for that. But when a mother of a perfectly healthy child tells us that after being vaccinated it got sick and died some rush to call her crazy. Well I am with the mother and I don’t care if the scientists fail to find a connection.

    Lets not forget how much money is behind all that. Let us not forget of the 100 million American and 100 million more that were vaccinated with the Polio vaccine that was contaminated with the carcinogenic SV40 monkey virus. Let us not forget the Baxter scandal involving vaccines tainted with deadly avian flu virus. Let us not forget the Bayer HIV infected blood products the Baycol deaths the methyl parathion poisoning case. And last lets not forget the ties the people at CDC and FDA have and others of course like those that are helping to pass legislation to protect the pharmaeuticals. Mr Sceptic is not so sceptic I think.

    Here is a good site with lots of info on vaccine ingredients and studies.

    http://www.novaccine.com/

    • tom says:

      Well, sadly I can imagine that no amount of proof can sooth a mother’s heart. Nonetheless, proof is proof.

  25. Reinaldo Mendez says:

    I live in Venezuela!…i would like to tell Jenny Mcarty and all the vaccine haters to come to Venezuela with their children and let them be exposed to Dengue Hemorragic Fever, Diarrea, yellow fever, Parotiditys, etc!!….and see if their kids will survive!!….please!!!…..in Latin America with dont even need to “Prove” scientifically the TRUE about vaccines!!…..We SEE it everyday!!!….period!!…if you dont get vaccine since Kid!….you`ll probably die of dengue, fever, dehydration, diarrea, vomiting, etc!….

    my email is jesuscalixto1@hotmail.com if you want to write me!

  26. Reinaldo Mendez says:

    One other Thing….in Venezuela we have been Vaccinating ourselves since the 40`s…..and nobody here has Autism!!…so that is BS!!…..in the present perhaps there are NO MORE than just 500 Autistic Kids in Venezuela out of 26millions people….i think there has NOT been one single person in Venezuela wich hasn`t been vaccinated!….that just proves that autism is NOT provoke by vaccines!

    • Vinod says:

      Well said, Mr. Mendez. I am from India and as someone who has friends permanently crippled by polio, it scares me to think how much out of touch people in more developed countries are with respect to vaccines.

  27. jwipe says:

    The misunderstanding of the parents who have stopped vaccinating their children is this: You cannot do that AND continue to eat processed foods, junk food, sugar, etc. Yes these vaccines may work to prevent the diseases, but they also do harmful, often permanent damage to the body. They tear down the immune system, thus making us require more vaccines, more drugs, etc, etc – it’s a vicious cycle. However, all the bad foods also tear down the immune system. If we concentrated on building up immune systems rather than tearing them down, people wouldn’t need vaccines because they wouldn’t get sick to begin with.

  28. AutismNewsBeat says:

    A Pittsburgh TV station just ran a week’s worth of some truly awful autism/vaccine stories.

    http://autism-news-beat.com/archives/339

  29. Stephen McClenahan says:

    I understand why vaccines are a good solid scientific necessity, but no one has been able to explain why it HAS to have the heavy metals in it.
    I mean seriously, mercury builds up over time.
    A baby is a very tiny fresh growing thing, does it have to get the vaccine as soon as it plops out into the world? Can’t we protect or newborns a little better, and then hit them with all those chems. a little later on?

  30. Russ Chancellor says:

    How come the child can’t be having an allergy to the vaccine that makes the condition go from bad to worse?

  31. Skeptic webmaster says:

    Comments Closed.

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The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

The Science Behind Why People See Ghosts

Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience? If so, you know how compelling they can be. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be dangerous…

Reality Check

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future (paperback cover)

How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future

The battles over evolution, climate change, childhood vaccinations, and the causes of AIDS, alternative medicine, oil shortages, population growth, and the place of science in our country—all are reaching a fevered pitch. Many people and institutions have exerted enormous efforts to misrepresent or flatly deny demonstrable scientific reality to protect their nonscientific ideology, their power, or their bottom line…

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Top 10 Myths About Evolution

Top 10 Myths About Evolution (and how we know it really happened)

If humans came from apes, why aren’t apes evolving into humans? Find out in this pamphlet!

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Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Top 10 Things You Should Know About Alternative Medicine

Topics include: chiropractic, the placebo effect, homeopathy, acupuncture, and the questionable benefits of organic food, detoxification, and ‘natural’ remedies.

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Learn to be a Psychic in 10 Easy Lessons

Learn to do Psychic “Cold Reading” in 10
Easy Lessons

Psychic readings and fortunetelling are an ancient art — a combination of acting and psychological manipulation.

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