Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Skepquote of the day

Posted in Skepquote by Skepdude on March 1, 2010

By offering the vague caveat that “there is no cure” while peddling her Generation Rescue’s slogan “autism is reversible” and telling parents that “for a moderately autistic kid the best prognosis is full recovery,” McCarthy makes a promise that no one on the planet has the authority to make. It’s one that puts the onus of failure on parents whose kids can’t or simply don’t make that “full recovery” and opens up those who take her advice to “try everything” to a buffet of expensive to downright dangerous quackery. Hey cautious party line that she supports a modified vaccination schedule while resolutely insisting on her Web site that “the nurse gave [Evan] the shot … and soon thereafter — boom — the soul’s gone from his eyes” is similarly disingenuous.

Parents of two autistic sons vaccinated one but not the other

Posted in News by Skepdude on June 15, 2009


Punch drunk as I am, required to read every alert regarding vaccine injury, I was struck by the facts issued on News 5. Reported by Kesshia Peyton, who interviewed Dr. Paul Offit, there is a surge of parents who are very angry at the diversion that anti-vaccine activists have created.

Tina Brown, mother of 2 boys with autism, decided not to vaccinate son Dylan because his brother Dalton had  been inoculated and was subsequently diagnosed with autism. Sadly, even in the absence of vaccines Dylan demonstrated symptoms of autism at 4 months of age.  (video interview is below).

Mrs. Brown believes that there is great need for research in environmental, genetic, and DNA reasons for the onset of autism. She is part of a growing number of parents who want answers, other than the constant mention of vaccine injury.


Skepdude says – Since the quacks are so fond of testimonials, I thought you’d enjoy one on the other side, which just goes to prove that you can always find a testimonial to support any side, which is why we should not base our judgements on anectodes but real scientific data.

More Backpeddaling from David Kirby

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on June 2, 2009


Maybe David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm and one of the major proponents of the notion that thimerosal in vaccines was largely responsible for the recent increase in autism diagnoses, is sincere when he claims he is not anti-vaccine. I say that because he has backed so far off from his stance that vaccines are the culprit – not completely, and without overtly acknowledging his past errors, but has put some significant distance between him current position and his prior certainty.

In his 2005 book Kirby asks the question:

Did the injection of organic mercury directly into the developing systems of small children cause irreparable harm? It’s a plausible proposition, and a hugely important question. If the answer is affirmative, someone will have to pay to pick up the pieces.

He coyly insists he was just asking questions, but the book makes a strong and, in my opinion, one sided case that there is “evidence of harm” – specifically evidence that thimerosal was a major contributor to autism. It also builds a case for a grand conspiracy to hide this fact from the public. Kirby then made a career out of promoting the notion of a link between vaccines and autism with government and professional malfeasance. He became a hero of the anti-vaccine movement.

Yet he insisted, implausibly, he was not “anti-vaccine.” As recently as December 2007 Kirby was writing this nonsense in the Huff Po:

But if thimerosal is vindicated, or shown to be a very minor player, then what about other vaccine ingredients? And what about the rather crowded vaccine schedule we now impose upon families of young children? And what about reports of unvaccinated children in Illinois, California and Oregon who appear to have significantly lower rates of autism? Shouldn’t we throw some research dollars into studying them?

By this time the handwriting was on the wall – thimerosal in vaccines is not linked to autism.  After moving the goalpost several times on the evidence, it could be moved no longer. The removal of thimerosal from the routine vaccine schedule by 2002 was followed by a continued increase in autism disgnoses – without even a blip. The predicted (by Kirby and others) precipitous decrease in autism diagnoses never came.

Kirby and the anti-vaccine crowd moved quietly over to the other ingredients in vaccines, in what has been called their “toxin gambit.” This move, more than anything else, is what convinced me that this was all really about being anti-vaccine. The MMR vaccine was vindicated. Now thimerosal was vindicated. So there must be something else in those vaccines that’s the problem – even though there is no evidence to link vaccines at all to autism.

Now Kirby has quietly backed off even more. He writes:

I believe that most ASD cases have environmental triggers (probably more than one) that activate certain genetic predispositions (again, probably more than one) and create some of the symptoms that we call “autism.” I also believe that vaccines may have played a role in triggering some – though certainly not all – cases of regressive autism. Even if that number is a small minority, it seems sensible to me to study the mechanism of action, in hopes of finding clues to the development of autism in all those other children.

Kirby is slowing moving over to the position of the scientific community he has so long criticized for not listening to parents and being blind to the true causes of autism.  He’s not quite there yet, but now it is mostly a matter of emphasis. His position now seems to be that autism is a complex set of disorders with many genetic and environmental contributions. Congratulations – that is what scientists have been saying for years.


Physician team’s crusade shows cracks

Posted in News by Skepdude on May 21, 2009


Dr. Mark Geier has, he says, solved the riddle of autism. He says he has identified its cause and, in the powerful drug Lupron, found an effective treatment — what he calls a “major discovery.”

But behind Geier’s bold assertion is a troubling paper trail that undercuts his portrayal of himself as a pioneer tilting against a medical establishment that refuses to embrace his novel ideas.

Time and again, reputable scientists have dismissed autism research by Geier and his son, David, as seriously flawed. Judges who have heard Mark Geier testify about vaccines’ harmful effects have repeatedly called him unqualified, with one describing his statements as “intellectually dishonest.”

“Dr. Geier may be clever,” another wrote, “but he is not credible.”A physician and genetic counselor by training, Geier, 61, presents himself as the scientist who has unraveled autism’s mystery, a claim that has won him a devoted following. He and his son tie the neurodevelopmental disorder to a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal, which has been removed from childhood vaccines except for some flu shots.

The Geiers have won support from the parents of autistic children who share their suspicion of the medical community, even though mainline scientists criticize their views. Parents who have used the Lupron treatment also praise the Geiers, and Mark Geier said scores of severely autistic children are improving steadily.

But the Geiers have been widely criticized for both their methods and their treatment. In 2003, the American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that a Geier study finding a link between vaccines and autism was marred by “numerous conceptual and scientific flaws, omissions of fact, inaccuracies, and misstatements.”

The following year, the Institute of Medicine concluded in a report that the purported connection between mercury in vaccines and autism did not exist. The government-sanctioned committee of scientists reserved harsh words for the Geiers’ work, saying their research was “uninterpretable” and marred by “serious methodological problems.”


Anectodal Evidence – a refresher

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 21, 2009

We all know that anecdotal evidence does not constitute proof of anything, except a belief that a person, or persons, are holding for one reason or another.  Many pseudo-scientific fields employ the anecdotal evidence tool because it can be evoke powerful emotional reactions from people. Autism “alternative medicine” is not an exception. Here is your typical anectode from the parent’s of an autistic child who improved, due to a radical change in his diet…according to the parents.

To watch Harry Weaver color with his grandmother, you’d assume he’s like any other three-year-old. That was not the case a year ago.

“You could call his name and he wouldn’t respond to his own name.  You could go clap your hands behind his head and he would act like nothing happened.  Somebody could walk up and say “boo,” and he would go on about his business just doing what he was doing,” says Julie Weaver.

“He was doing the traditional route and it wasn’t working. It wasn’t working. I had to do something else. I was losing more of him every day,” says Weaver.

So Julie radically changed Harry’s diet. She took out foods that contained gluten, a wheat protein from flour, and casein, the milk protein in cow’s milk.

She said she saw an immediate difference, describing it as a fog being lifted from Harry’s eyes.“He entered our world. He started having meaningful speech.

He would point his finger to show us what he wanted now. And when the therapist would come to the house to do therapy, he would cooperate,” says Weaver.

First, I am glad this child was able to overcome some of the troubles autism brings to kids. But I can’t help but note the fact that when the new diet was implemented, the regular therapy continued. It is impossible to reject the hypothesis that the continued therapy finally started showing some results. This is a typical post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, one that no person alive is immune from, including your own. We naturally like to see patterns like this, and if it makes us feel like we figured out how to solve the problem, we tend to see the correlation even more, even when maybe it is not there.

Is anyone aware of any studies done about diet change and autism? Please let me know in the comments.

My Child Has Autism and I Vaccinate

Posted in Blogher by Skepdude on May 6, 2009

Have you or would you ever let your children travel by airplane? If your answer is “yes,” then you should re-examine any concerns about vaccinating your children. Both flying and vaccination carry real risks, but those risks are statistically unlikely to affect your family.

I know it’s more complicated than that, so keep reading. I also understand the fear behind not vaccinating, as I’ve been there myself. I clearly remember the stone age of 2003: my two-year-old son was newly diagnosed with autism, and I was desperate to help him.

The first thing I did was to enroll Leo in an ABA program, because that was the only method proven to help children with autism gain skills. But ABA is hard work and doesn’t promise miracles, and I wanted changes, fast. I craved a son who could tell me, “Mommy, I love you!,” so I started exploring alternative autism therapies.

And indeed, I found many self-appointed autism professionals willing to tell me to look past the challenging but loving boy I already had and focus on a theoretical Recovered Boy of the future. I tried not to be bothered that these people were (and still are) promoting scientifically questionable approaches, and focused on one of their popular theories: they thought that mercury in vaccines caused autism.

Those anti-vaccination people were passionate about “curing” our autistic children. I was passionate, I wanted to cure my autistic child. I did what they told me.

I stopped vaccinating my kids.

My youngest child was born in 2004, eighteen months after her brother’s diagnosis and during the thick of my alternative-treatment frenzy. I was so freaked out by being told, repeatedly, that Leo’s autism was likely caused by an injected environmental factor that there was no way in hell my new baby was getting a shot of anything. Not even vitamin K.

As that fortunately healthy baby grew and thrived, so did the evidence refuting a thimerosal/vaccine/autism link. Unfortunately, so did the rates of preventable and potentially lethal diseases. Turns out I wasn’t the only parent who’d freaked out and stopped immunizing his or her kids.

I needed to know if vaccinations had in fact affected my son, so I formally investigated the possible correlation between Leo’s autism and his immunization schedule: I enrolled him in a MIND Institute study that tracked the emergence of his autism symptoms via home videos, medical records, and my own journals.

The result: there was no evidence that Leo had regressed into autism after being vaccinated.

I thought long and hard. And decided that the risks of vaccinating my children were acceptable .


Hyperbaric Oxygen for Autism

Posted in Neurologica by Skepdude on March 16, 2009

A new study looks at the effectiveness of hyperbaric oxygen therapy in autism. The study is the first double-blind placebo controlled study of such therapy in autism and found a significant improvement in those children in the treatment group.

However, the treatment is very controversial and remains so, even after this study.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves placing patients in a chamber with pressure increased above atmospheric pressure with an enriched oxygen content.  It has many legitimate medical applications, such as treating certain kinds of infection, but also has become popular among some as an unscientific treatment. It is offered by practitioners and chambers are even sometimes purchased by private individuals for their own family’s use.

The problem, of course, is that some claims for hyperbaric oxygen go way past the evidence, or exist in the utter absence of evidence. This includes autism – there are no compelling studies showing any benefit from hyperbaric oxygen therapy in autism. The few studies that do exist are uncontrolled, which means they are mostly worthless.

This current study is at least a double-blind controlled trial. But it still has significant weaknesses. The primary weakness, in my opinion, is that the parents of the children being studied were allowed in the chamber with their children. The two groups in the study either received 24% oxygen in 1.3 atmospheres, or 21% oxygen in 1.03 atmospheres. It’s probable that many of the parents knew if they were getting increased pressure or not, and this therefore could have unblinded the study.

Tight blinding is critical for these type of studies because the assessment of the effect on the autistic children is highly subjective. For example, the assessment includes how much eye contact the children make.


Hyperbaric Autism Treatment Shows Possible Promise

Posted in News by Skepdude on March 13, 2009

Well not really, but read the whole thing to get to Paul Offits thoughts and comments. I think the title of this piece is more optimistic than what is warranted by the actual article, but I guess you can decide for yourself.

To battle her son’s autism, Kazuko Curtin did more than look into a treatment — she started a clinic for it.


While the reasons remain unclear, hyperbaric chambers may help autistic children.

(ABCNews Photo Illustration)

Twelve years ago, Curtin was told by doctors that her son had autism. In subsequent years, while attending conferences, she heard about treatment in a hyperbaric chamber, where pressure is increased in an attempt to boost the amount of oxygen in the child’s brain.

Curtin bought a machine, and today a hyperbaric chamber is one of the treatments offered by the CARE Clinics in Austin, Texas, and Tampa, Fla., which she opened last year.

“Hyperbaric is very useful,” said Curtin. “You never think autistic children are going to stay inside the hyperbaric for 90 minutes, because they are very restless. What’s amazing — they like it! For some reason, they are very calm inside.”

Curtin is the not the first to use hyperbaric therapy, a procedure with little scientific backing for the treatment of autism. But a new, small study of 56 children treated at several small clinics may change that if the findings can be replicated.


Breaking News: Autism Treatment Center of America still blames vaccines

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on February 17, 2009

Well I guess no one is surprised by this but it turns out that the “vaccines cause autism” crowd remains convinced that vaccines are to be blamed for autism. The latest comes in the form of an article at the Age of Autims, in which Raun K. Kaufman, CEO of Autism Treatment Center of America issued a statement last week saying:

“We disagree strongly with the court’s ruling and stand firmly behind parents of children with autism and other developmental disorders. Although there is currently ostensibly no statistical proof that vaccines have caused some cases of autism there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence. We work with thousands of parents, hundreds of whom have told us stories about how their children appeared completely typical before being vaccinated and within days or weeks of vaccination displayed the symptoms of autism.

The program we teach, The Son-Rise Program, is built upon the idea that the parent is the child’s best resource. No one has the love, life-long dedication and day-to-day understanding of their child that parents have. When parents tell us that their child was typical, received the vaccines, then developed autism soon after, we believe them. In everyday language we call these true stories. We do not believe in waiting 20 years for the right kind of statistics, but rather helping parents and their children now. Apparently the court disagreed.”

First of all we all stand behind the parents of children with autism and other developmental disorders. Second of all, so far as I have been interested in the issue I have heard parents of autistic children argue both sides of the argument. His statement makes it sound as if parents of autistic children fall in his camp when in fact I don’t perceive that as being the case. I don’t have any numbers to back up this statement, that is just what I feel based on what I have read. Parents fall on both sides of the spectrum.

Secondly, he agrees that there is no proof that vaccines caused any autism, but yet he believes, because of a “plethora of anecdotal evidence”.  He does not seem to understand how we obtain knowledge in this universe. The anecdotal evidence serves as a first step in determining if there needs to be further investigation, but when the rigorous investigation comes back negative, you don’t discount it and go back to the anecdotal evidence. That’s preposterous and ridiculously stupid. What it says is basically : I don’t care what the truth is, I choose to believe the weaker evidence instead of the strong evidence”.

Thirdly, this statement is dangerous. While it is true that no one ” has the love, life-long dedication and day-to-day understanding of their child that parents have.” it is not true to imply that because of that parents know best when it comes to complex medical issues. It is certainly false to say that parents know better about autism, solely because they have an autistic child.That’s akin to saying that I know more about fixing my car than my mechanic, because I have owned my care for 20 years and I love it dearly.

When parents tell us that their child was typical, received the vaccines, then developed autism soon after, we believe them. In everyday language we call these true stories.” I call them non sequiturs. While I do not doubt that temporally that is what happened, certainly given the vaccine schedule, the kid is bound to have had a vaccine at the most a few months before the diagnosis, I do doubt the parent’s ability to infer a cause and effect relationship from a sample of one.How can they know that it was the vaccine that caused autism? Are they really sure the kid did not have autistic symptoms before the vaccine? Can they be sure the kid was “autism free” right up to the day they got vaccinated? Are they not confusing the onset of the disease with the diagnosis? Sure the kid was diagnosed after a vaccine, but does that mean he was disease free until then? I doubt that. Most people get a cancer diagnosis way after the cancer entered their body. Time of diagnosis on it’s own does not imply time of disease onset. Are these parents telling us that the doctors that diagnosed their kids told them their kid could not have had autism before the shot? I doubt that.

I wonder what he calls the parent’s that say that autism is not caused by vaccines. Not that it makes much difference, at the end of the day they are not professionals and their opinion is just that, a personal opinion, but still it makes a good comparison I think.

Book Is Rallying Resistance to the Antivaccine Crusade

Posted in News by Skepdude on January 13, 2009

A new book defending vaccines, written by a doctor infuriated at the claim that they cause autism, is galvanizing a backlash against the antivaccine movement in the United States.

But there will be no book tour for the doctor, Paul A. Offit, author of “Autism’s False Prophets.” He has had too many death threats.

“I’ll speak at a conference, say, to nurses,” he said. “But I wouldn’t go into a bookstore and sign books. It can get nasty. There are parents who really believe that vaccines hurt their children, and to them, I’m incredibly evil. They hate me.”