Saturday, March 28, 2015

How the medical establishment caused the anti-vaccination movement.

I watched the PBS Frontline on the Vaccine Wars and they still don't get it, five years on.

In 2010 I blogged about their first "Vaccine Wars"for Psychology Today.   Five years later they're still ignoring both of the 500lb gorillas in the room.  And refusing to admit what should be blindingly obvious to any unbiased observer--the main cause of the belief that vaccines cause autism lies not with parents' hysterical fears or ignorance of 'REAL science' but with the medical establishment's gross stupidity (if it's no worse than that) in dealing with autism.

Look, John, see the gorillas!  Gorilla Number One is something that Frontline admitted in a quick screen flash that was over, wholly without comment, in a couple of seconds--that autism has increased by a whopping 6000% over the last few decades.  Gorilla Number Two is the fact that they and the medical establishment continue to completely ignore: that there are two kinds of autism,  one clearly genetic and unvarying from the start, the other occurring in previously normal children and triggering rapid regression to an autistic state.  Obviously something in the environment is implicated in these cases.  But what?

Clearly the two gorillas are related.  Evil twins.  If autism has soared and if a lot of it (how much, nobody knows--talk about that for neglect of responsibility!) consists of late-onset, regressive autism, part of the cause has to be something in the environment that wasn't present before.  The obvious move for any responsible medical establishment is to start looking for the new factor(s).

Did they?  Not for one second.  They blandly told us that the increase was due to broader diagnostic criteria, better diagnosis, wider public awareness.  The regressive autism cases?  Well, that was just that the parents were in denial until they were eventually forced to face the truth--their "kids" had been autistic all along but they hadn't recognized it.

I don't like it when people insult my intelligence.  I get apoplectic when those people masquerade as the voice of REAL science. What the medical establishment offers is not even junk science.  It's nothing more than the face-saving reaction of any large human organization, which is always self-protective and always strives to pass itself off as omniscient.  If doctors are the all-knowing guardians of our health that they think they are, how can they say that they don't have a clue about what's causing the staggering increase in autism?

So they pretend that the causes are what they've always been--strictly genetic--and that therefore there hasn't REALLY been an increase, and that if you think there has, you're an ignorant idiot.   Which is absolute self-serving crap, as anyone with half a brain can see.  Can you imagine how a parent feels who has just seen a bright and promising toddler with a whole fruitful and happy life ahead of him or her suddenly regress to a prelingual presocial state, maybe just days or weeks after a vaccination (or more likely, with today's protocols in place, a whole batch of vaccinations, some against diseases you're unlikely ever to see, but Big Medicine's mantra is CAN DO, WILL DO).  What would you think?  Oh no it can't be the vaccine because a man  in a white coat told me it wasn't?

So the anti-vaccine movement is the natural and inevitable reaction of any normal human to the cretinous obstructionism of the medical establishment.  You broke it, you doctors--now go fix it!

The medical establishment could fix the anti-vax movement by simply telling the truth.  By saying, loud and clear:  yes, we're sorry, we dropped the ball on this one, but clearly there's something new at work here, and it's almost certainly something in the environment, so we're going to work our butts off finding out what it is, no holds barred--and, parents of autistic children, we welcome any input you can give us!

Will they?  Come on, what world are you living in?

A funny world indeed, where police work is more scientific than science.  I kid you not.  Faced with a crime where there's no obvious suspect, a good detective doesn't say, "Oh well, maybe it didn't happen".  A good detective suspects everyone until s/he has a prime suspect (or at least a "person of interest") in sight.  A good detective doesn't rule out any possible suspect unless that suspect can supply an unbreakable alibi.  Even if s/he can't solve the case, a good detective never, ever gives up--sometimes, not even after retirement.  Those are just the things that a good scientist should always do.  And what a frightening number of self-described scientists today wouldn't even dream of doing.

Me, I don't rule out anything.  Vaccines are relatively low on my list of suspects. PCBs somewhere in the middle.  Pride of place: pesticides, and genetically engineered foods that have been exposed to pesticides.  Of course, now we are realizing there are wide differences in individual reactions, it could be multi-causal.  But pesticides are the prime suspects, because the UC Davis study showed that pregnant women in sprayed areas were 60% likelier to have autistic  children and because the Swanson et al. paper showed an R = 0.989 for the autism-GMO/glyphosate connection.

It's high time to get the show on the road.  I'm already preparing a list of all the leading U.S. science writers and editors who will shortly receive an open letter asking them why they have abdicated their responsibility to the American public and failed to publicize the great and growing threat that the monstrous increase in the use of glyphosate and other pesticides poses to us all.


  1. Let's play good-study / bad-study.

    Study that apparently made up their effective radius for "pesticide exposure" without scientific basis - bad study.

    Study that looked at over 670,000 subjects over decades - good study.

    The former decided by playing with the numbers they could find a way to correlate glyphosate usage with a 60% increase in autism - even though the type of pesticide drift that could travel the distances they used should have had some effect on the trees and lawns in it's path; after all glyphosate is a very good herbicide.

    The second concluded that 60% of the massive reported increase in autism is due to the diagnosis bias + widening the definition for diagnosis.

    I won't rule anything out. But I won't assign too much weight to the correlation game that yields meaningless results. The UC Davis study needs to be better. By playing with numbers and small samples, you can find a way to make data say something. Their confidence intervals tell that story. You could probably make the radius smaller and only get a 50% correlation, or 30.

    So here you go wagging your finger at people that spend their life studying something. You're jumping in way over your head. It's monstrously presumptuous to assume that with all of the autism research money out there right now, that all scientists are just keeping their mouths shut on glyphosate. You need to approach this with the humility of realizing you might not be right. You are not a trained scientist, you are overlooking glaring flaws in one math experiment, and then scolding entire fields of research on why they don't give it the weight you assume it deserves.

  2. Mike, there's something highly suspicious to me about somebody who, when a study reaches a result he doesn't like, accuses its authors of bad faith ("decided by playing with the numbers") But since I'm not a "trained scientist", it obviously can't be true that my latest book was very favorably reviewed in Science last year, now can it?

    To get serious, lay off the ad hominem crap and replace it with precise citations and cogent arguments based on these, otherwise there's no place for you on thos site.

  3. Derek,

    I find it a bit odd that when a paper states a finding that somebody likes, they embrace it uncritically, and assign it more weight then it deserves.

    My comments were not ad hominem, but if you want details, here you go. Their statistics are not good. We only need the original citation to the UC Davis study:

    Look at table 3. It's where they give odds ratios of the children having autism at the various radii at different windows in the pregnancy. Lots of BAD confidence intervals. A lot of intervals embracing 1.0 (which makes them statistically insignificant compared to un-exposed), and a lot awfully close to 1.0. And the intervals are not tight.

    These are not strong statistics. It indicates that they aren't really proving much. If they were to do it over again, and you wanted to know with 95% certainty that you would get the same results, the statistics would indicate that you they would not.

    So, next point- paying with the numbers. What is the stated significance of their buffer zones of 1.25, 1.5 and 1.75 km? They don't even try to make a case that these have any physical relevance. The reader is left wondering if they didn't just collect the data and see what kind of radii they would need to support their idea, even with low confidence. Can't say they did that, but without any reasoning as to why they chose their buffer zones, I have to ask the question. It doesn't lend much weight to the study as a whole. Where is information for 1.0 km? .5 km? Living on a farm?

    I'm sure you are an expert in your field. If I ever had questions about linguistics, you'd be the first person I'd ask. I'm sure your favorable review in Science was deserved. I do think that training in science would help you smoke out problems in studies like this. I'm not a "scientist" either. My education is chemical/biochemical engineering. But the strong background in science that came from that (particularly the biochemical part) informs my view on published research like this. The world is full of scientific studies that make it through peer review, but make claims and conclusions that are not supported by their research. You can't take anything at face value.