A friend of mine just had a baby. She is currently feeling all the awe, wonder, fulfilment, happiness, nervousness, and fallibility that goes along with having your first child. I experienced the very same thing. Its an incredible wonderful set of emotions that you have with a new child.
We got to talking about many subjects including diapers, baby poop, breast milk, and of course vaccinations. If you have read my blog before you probably know I am pretty consumed with assertions that require evidence. Its why I think "ancient chinese medicine" is nonsense, and claims from companies about their products, or God. If you make a claim, you should be prepared to back it up.
Granted I fully understand two things about the human species. First, we crave answers to our questions. Why did my son die? Why did my mother get cancer? Why did that bad person do something horrible to my friend? Many poeple are inclined to beleive in god's needs or challenges, but if you are not you may be prone to pseudoscientific answers from clods who look to gain from selling nonsense either to you directly or to news outlets, or as legal fees.
Second big thing is that no one likes to be wrong. So what happens when no evidence can be found to back up a claim, or worse, conflicting evidence arises (we will see both shortly), well you move goal posts and claim victory. Or you pull out anecdotal evidence. Or you claim conspiracy theories. All of these tactics are employed by people selling nonsense from the antivaccinationists to water dowsers, to astrologists, homeopaths and so forth.
I am no expert in immunology (and neither are most of the mercury militua) but I am pretty good at reviewing information and seeing weak arguments when they are made. This is the only sort of expertise I can offer with regard to my opinions about vaccines. There is a whole field of debunkings possible and I wont do everything in one post. At the end I will provide some links to other folks who have done a great job of tearing apart the claims of the mercury militia.
So lets get started:
Claim: Mercury in Thimerisol causes autism
Evidence: We have been vaccinating more people and the rate of autism has been rising.
Debunking: Here is a study that tries to make this very claim. But that data in the study conflicts with its own conclusions. It shows the rise in autism rates, but sadly for him, and David Kirby the head of the mercury militia, thimerisol is no longer added to vaccines in the US as of late 2002. Its now 2008 and the rates continue to rise in california, and in the entire US, without even a blip in the rate when the thimerisol was removed.
This is not surprising, Canada performed the very same study in 1998 with 27,000 kids in it, same result.
If you take out the thing they claimed to be causing autism and the rates continue to rise, then it wasnt that thing.
Claim: Mercury is a toxic substance that should not be put into the body.
Evidence: Heavy metal poisoning is real.
Debunk: It sure is, but that is irrelevant. Look, sodium is an explosive metal, chlorine is a deadly gas, but that doesnt mean that salt will kill you. Thimerisol is a very good preservative. It forms ethylmercury, which does not bioaccumulate. It is easily confused with methylmercury, a different compound, that does bioaccumulate and is very poisonous.
Claim: chelating my kids makes them better.
Evidence: Kids seem to improve while getting chelation therapy.
Debunk:Chelation (kee-lay-shun), is a process of giving some chemicals to people to help remove heavy metals. This is pretty well debunked here. Basically we are at a place where the claim of the efficacy of the therapy has no evidence to support it, never mind deaths caused by it. But what about the fact that many parents think their kids got better from it? This is a form of confirmation bias. No parent of an autistic child chelates their kid and does nothing else. Most will do everything they think is possible in order to 'cure' their child. So they will use hyperbaric chambers, they will remove casein from their diet, they will try all sorts of stuff, including therapy of various forms. But if the kids get better, then they point to the 'alternative' method rather than point ot the fact the some kids just get better with therapy. Now we have good organizations, such as the CDC and NIH who are taking notes, they are grouping kids that have parents that are submitting their children to all these things, and they have groups of kids of parent who are just using therapy for the most part. Guess what....the improvement of symptoms is virtually the same in severity and in rates.
Whats worse, is that people think they have cured their kids due to administering all this nonsense and then can't understand why scientists aren't beating down their door to see what they did. Its becuase they are providing no good data!
Double blind tests are difficult to do and expensive, but anyone claiming to have a cure, must go through this process to verify this. Here is a good synopsis of what has truly been studies and what has not. It is a disconcerting to see how far away we are from a treatment. But just because there isn't a proven treatment, that doesnt mean that some unprovent treatment with no basis for working is the answer either.
Claim: the rate of autism is increasing it must be something we are doing to our population.
Evidence: The rate of autism is now 1 in 150, with some estimates even higher
Debunk: Yes its true, but that certainly doesnt mean that it is vaccines. It could be flash photography. More importantly one must understand the extent of the spectrum of disorders. On the most mild side, there are perfectly capable members of society who may be a little weird, who may not look you in the eye who are now considered to have autism that were not before. These folks are added to the statistics of people with autism.
further, there has been changes in diagnoses. There are many poeple who, 20 years ago, were diagnosed with mental retardation, or a developmental language disorder, who are now recognized as autistic. This is known as diagnostic substitution.
Claim: People who don't have vaccines don't get autism
Debunk: The amish vaccinate. The amish get autism, albeit at a lower rate. If they are getting vaccinated and have a lower rate of autism, can we now say that its not the vaccinations? Again, maybe its flash photography or fluorescent lights? Can I start a new theory?
Claim: Kids get autism when they receive their 18 month MMR shot
Evidence: Kids spike to a fever, then get autistic symptoms.
Debunk: In the past diagnosis was not possible before age 3 or 4, then diagnosis became possible at 18 months. Some claim to be able to detect it as early as 6 months now. So once again, while the shot may cause some immunological response, its more likely the autism was there first.
There are a ton of other causation questions that make no sense from the mercury militia. As the data comes in that its not mercury they move the goal posts and focus on something else, or they change their definition of autism. Im not going to go into every iota of it here. There just isnt space. These reasons were enough for me.
There are some good blogs about autism. Here are some:
Katharien Seidel at Neurodiversity
Science Based Medicine
Each of them will provide good clearheaded articles on autism and links to many more sites. I hope this was helpful. I hope it has alleviated some fears for my friend. I shared all those fears also when I had my daughter, believe me! We all want answers to this puzzle. Its likely there is a genetic factors plus some environmental one. Do you have autism in your family? If not I wouldnt worry about this too much.
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