Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

Autism/vaccine link still unfounded

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on August 25, 2009

I usally pick on The Examiner because of the ridiculous stuff you find in their site. But, I am aware that many reasonable people are trying to change that by becoming writers for the site. This is an example of a pretty good article on vaccines and autism on The Examiner website. Shocking!


In this world where technology becomes increasingly relevant to our everyday lives, it’s only natural to look for reassurances that our modern conveniences don’t come with too high a price.  Never has that been more true than with the medicine we put in not only our own bodies, but in our children’s as well.  There are a wide variety of diseases out there that threaten our kids, and it is easy for some to take advantage of the anxiety we feel about the health of those we love to make us do foolish things, like not get our kids vaccinated.

It is vital for parents to educate themselves about the dangers of childhood diseases and also about the vaccines that help prevent them.  There is quite a lot of information out there about vaccines, what they do and what they don’t do, it’s hard for a concerned parent to separate real information from fabrications.  It is made harder still because of some who are well-meaning, but ignorant of the facts and who overreacting to misleading information with scare tactics designed to get past well-reasoned argument.  There are organizations all over that claim to provide facts about vaccines, but have nothing but rumors, propaganda and misinformation and are just plain wrong.

Those sources will say that vaccines have ingredients in them which cause autism.  However, the facts say otherwise.  What is in vaccines is no great secret.  Your doctor can tell you, or you can ask the Center for Disease Control.  It is their job to know more about these things than just about anyone else.  There is a wealth of information about vaccines out there for anyone who wants to look past the propaganda and fear, places like the National Network for Immunization Information.  It’s actually extremely easy to tell a good source of information from a bad one.  The good ones provide you with information and supporting evidence.  The bad one’s try to scare you.


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.

Age of Autism – Age of Denialism!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 2, 2009

The deluded folks over at Age of Autism like to cling to the outdated idea that vaccines somehow are responsible for autism, despite the fact that many studies show no such link, despite the fact that their poster boy, Andrew Wakefield, has bestowed heaps upon heaps of shame and humiliation to their movement, despite the fact that they have nothing to support their claims, but some testimonials which they think must trump anything else. The arrogance of their ignorance is truly amazing to watch, if it were not so destructive and dangerous.

Their new post titled, ironically,  “Why Good Parents Believe Myths About Autism and Vaccines” sheds some more light on their arrogant ignorance. It’s the usual conspiracy theory claims about how we are being scared into vaccinating our kids, blah, blah, blah and most importantly it takes on a Newsweek article of the same title, which they don’t even link to, lazy arrogants that they are, which goes to show you what kind of people you are dealing with. They will criticize something but not link to it, even though they gladly link to sites that favor their stupid ideas. And speaking of sites that support the stupid idea that vaccines cause autism, they bring out, what else, the 14 studies website, another ridiculous attempt to discredit the research done on vaccines by basically saying “it’s only 14 studies”. We want more!

I’m not even going to attempt to dismantle the pile of horse shit that the 14 studies website is, but instead I will destroy their credibility by directly addressing on claim on their home page, specifically the following:

By reading and analyzing every published study used to “prove” vaccines do not cause autism, this website will show you that:

Not one study compares vaccinated children to unvaccinated children — every study only looks at children who have received vaccines. This is like comparing smokers who smoke one pack a day to those who smoke two packs a day, seeing no difference in cancer rates, and saying cigarettes don’t cause cancer.

When will the idiots writing these things learn to make up lies that are not easily demonstrated to be lies? It is embarrassing really to make the claim above, which can so quickly be shot down with the shortest amount of research. One needs only to look up the famous Danish Study to see what I mean. The Danish study followed up all kids born in Denmark between 1991 and 1998, ALL 537,303 of them, of which 440,655 received the MMR vaccine and the rest did not. So what did the study report?

After adjustment for potential confounders, the relative risk of autistic disorder in the group of vaccinated children, as compared with the unvaccinated group, was 0.92 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.68 to 1.24), and the relative risk of another autistic-spectrum disorder was 0.83 (95 percent confidence interval, 0.65 to 1.07). There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, the time since vaccination, or the date of vaccination and the development of autistic disorder.

Would you believe that? They did in fact compare the vaccinated children to the unvaccinated children, which makes the 14 studies website writers at best a bunch of ignorant, lazy buffoons and at worst a bunch of liars! Take your pick, I think I proved my point.

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.


Skeptify this poll

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on June 1, 2009

Via Pharyngula we get a link to this poll:

Do vaccines cause autism?

Absolutely. They caused my child’s autism.
Probably. I’ve seen evidence that suggests a link.
Possibly. I am weighing the evidence.
Probably not. Most of the evidence suggests there’s no link.
Absolutely not. There’s no link between vaccines and autism

Skeptify brothers and sisters (all 36 of you, as of the last count). Now why can’t PZ give me a plug and throw some crumbs from his behemoth daily traffic my way huh? Selfish!

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 .


NIH Commits $60 Million to Autism Research

Posted in News by Skepdude on April 30, 2009

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will commit roughly $60 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support autism research and meet objectives set forth earlier this year by a federal advisory committee. The Request for Applications is the largest funding opportunity for research on autism spectrum disorders (ASD) to date and, combined with other ARRA initiatives, represents a surge in NIH’s commitment to finding the causes and treatments for autism.

Four grant announcements, sharing a single title, “Research to Address the Heterogeneity in Autism Spectrum Disorders,” will use different funding mechanisms to support a range of research topics over the next two years. Examples of research topics include developing and testing diagnostic screening tools for different populations; assessing risk from prenatal or early life exposures; initiating clinical trials to test early interventions; or adapting existing, effective pediatric treatments for older children, teens, and adults with ASD.

A full listing of possible study topics is available in the grant announcement listing in the NIH Guide ( While few trials can be completed in two years, ARRA funds will be important for jumpstarting projects and building the infrastructure or foundation for longer-term autism research efforts.


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.