How many studies does it take to satisfy a crank?

David Kirby asks us to move the goalposts one more time on the vaccines-cause-autism question.

Epidemiologic studies have shown no link. The Institute of Medicine has looked at the evidence for the link between mercury and autism and found it to be specious. Thimerosal has been removed, to no effect. Throughout the Autism Omnibus proceedings we've seen the best case for a link and it's a joke. The measles PCRs linking gut samples from autistic kids to "chronic measles infection" from the MMR jab were false positives. At every single point when this problem has been studied it's been found to be a specious link. But are the anti-vax cranks like David Kirby ever satisfied? Of course not. It will always be one more study. And there will always be specious evidence for the anti-vax denialists to grasp desperately to so this issue will never die. They will propose things like "mercury efflux disorder" without any proof of its existence. They will switch from thimerosal, to other parts of the adjuvants like aluminum, to blaming environmental mercury (as Kirby did in his last post). Or they'll generate more bogus correlations, for instance, Kirby loves this new Survey USA poll:

It certainly wasn't hard for the respected polling company, Survey USA, to find nearly 1,000 unvaccinated children living in nine counties in California and Oregon. All they had to do was pick up the phone.

Survey USA, commissioned by the anti-thimerosal group Generation Rescue, completed telephone interviews in 11,817 households with one or more children age 4 to 17. Of the 17,674 children inventoried, 991 were described as being completely unvaccinated.

Interestingly, the survey found that, among boys (who have neurodevelopmental disorders at a 4-to-1 ratio over girls) vaccinated children were 155 percent more likely to have a neurological disorder, 224 percent more likely to have ADHD, and 61 percent more likely to have autism. Among boys aged 11-18, the increased autism risk was 112 percent.

Is that so? I wonder what would happen if someone actually took a close look at the survey results...

Well Prometheus does and should we be surprised? It's just more garbage:

This CDC report found that the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders ranged from 4.5 to 6.5 per 1000 children, which would be 0.45 - 0.65%.

The GR survey found that the prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders was 4.7% in their overall sample and ranged from 1.3% (female, fully vaccinated) to 8.4% (male, partially vaccinated). This is nearly ten times the CDC prevalence.

To put the number into perspective, the CDC data say that somewhere between 1 in 222 to 1 in 154 children have an autistic spectrum disorder. The GR survey would suggest that 1 in 21 children have an autistic spectrum disorder. Ridiculous!

Clearly, there is a serious problem with this survey.

But wait, there's more:

To get a statistically significant difference between the unvaccinated and vaccinated boys, they had to lump the partially vaccinated and the fully vaccinated boys together and they also had to lump autism, PDD-NOS, Asperger's syndrome, ADD and ADHD together.roups, with the partially and fully vaccinated boys having - as a group - 55% more reported "neurological disorders".

However, if you look at the "autistic spectrum disorders" by themselves, there is no statistically significant difference between unvaccinated and vaccinated (partially plus fully) boys.

Curiously, there is a statistically significant difference between the partially vaccinated boys and both the unvaccinated and fully vaccinated boys. Partially vaccinated boys have a higher prevalence of autistic spectrum disorders than either the unvaccinated or fully vaccinated boys.

Now, if you want to show that an exposure causes a disorder, it is generally a good idea to show a dose-response relationship. In the case of this survey, a little vaccination is worse than none or a lot. This doesn't sound like a dose-response relationship to me.

Ok, one more example that Kirby can't find good data to save his life. But does that make him wrong to ask for one more study? Why can't we delay certifying the safety of vaccines just a little bit longer until it is done?

Now that Dr. Gerberding no longer has the excuse that "record immunization levels" preclude such a study, perhaps she might direct some of the recently appropriated Combating Autism Act funds to studying the two groups of children.

For those that disagree -- and I look forward to your rational comments on why this study should never be done -- I suggest you take up your concerns with the CDC director herself, and not with me.

After all, Dr. Gerberding is the one who said that this study "should be done." And I, for one, could not agree with her more.

Well, because there is no damn good reason to do the study other than to appease cranks. And knowing that cranks are never appeased makes it pointless to do the study. Recognition of futility is a sign of intelligence. Kirby and the anti-vax cranks like RFK Jr. respond to data that contradicts their worldview by alleging conspiracies and criminality on the part of thousands of scientists, doctors, and government officials. Why in the world should we think that one more study, even one they ask for, will change their minds? If it comes back with a result that contradicts their pre-formed opinions about the homeschool kids and the Amish (who do vaccinate contrary to the anti-vax myths) they'll just say it's another conspiracy. They'll just throw the data out the window and call the scientists liars and criminals all over again.

I have no problem with this study being done. But don't expect this to ever shut up a crank. They are not convinced by facts and data.

More like this

J. B. Handley never ceases to amaze me how much he is willing to torture me with his abuses of science, never mind his childish attempts to annoy me by cybersquatting domain names that he thinks I want. So there I was, all set to blog about a rather amusing homeopath that I've come across, when…
It's time to talk about the anti-vaccine (or anti-vax) denialists. Considering the Autism Omnibus trial is underway to decide whether or not parents of autistic children can benefit from the vaccine-compensation program, a fund designed to compensate those who have had reactions to vaccines and…
There has been a whole lot crap floating around the press in the last couple weeks since the trial started that is seeking to link vaccination with higher incidence of autism. Now a survey funded by one of these anti-vaccination groups is correlating, through a random telephone survey, more…
The anti-vaccine movement is nothing if not plastic. It "evolves" very rapidly in response to selective pressures applied to it in the form of science refuting its key beliefs. For instance, when multiple studies looking at the MMR vaccine and autism failed to confirm the myth that the MMR causes…

You know there was recently, within the last 2 weeks, a long segment about this on talk of the nation. One of the researchers, whose son is autistic, pointed out that just the prospect of having an explanation perpetuated the story. Why couldn't the rumor be something useful, like "McDonalds causes autism" or something?


What really gives the game away, I think, is the litigants' and anti-vax cranks' response to the vaccine court hearing. There's next to nothing in the bloggosphere. And if you look at the a-champ site, even their slanted summaries of the hearings have been pushed down the page by the specious "research" the antivaxxers put out to distract everyone from the court case, and by an irrelevant report from the Wash Post.

They've also been pumping out garbage in the last few days attacking various people like Offitt, and suggesting media coverage is all controlled by drug companies.

It's truly shocking, and pathetic that they can't deal with their own "experts" being examined by their own attorneys, and then to see both face honest men and women, scientists of high repute, who have shown the whole vaccine thing as a scam.

Just finished reviewing some of the 3,000 pages of transcripts generated from the trial. The Madsen study from Denmark is one of the 5 epidemiological studies which clear's the safety of injecting babies with mercury. Did you guys finish reading the transcripts yet? Is this all the science the government has? Boy, was that psychiatrist/epidemiologist/toxicologist/neurologist from Canada ever getting cranky under cross. He was especially mad when he had to declare that he's been paid over a hundred grand for his unbiased opinions. Has he sold out his own kid like some of the other government favorites? What confuses me about the Madsen paper is that prior to 1995 only autistic inpaitents were counted in their science. After 1995 inpaitents and outpatients were counted. In Madsen's 2002 paper clearing the MMR, they listed the number of inpaitents and outpaitents. The outpaitents outnumbered the inpaitents by a factor of 13.5 to 1. Do you guys know what the number of inpaitents were after 1995. This would at least compare the same cohourt. For some reason Madsen wouldn't publish that number. Do you guys think that since the Hepatitus B vaccine, which was preserved with 25,000 ppb Hg and delivered at birth only in the US, would make studies done in Europe irrelevant?

By Another Scientist (not verified) on 28 Jun 2007 #permalink

You can never satisfy those who are convinced...they take it on faith and will dismiss any evidence they do not agree with. So, assuming they are "lost", our job is to keep the vast majority of the population on the right track.

I guess "Another Scientist" has not gotten to page 2900 where the Wakefield factor is summarized (not to mention the Chadwick testimony that showed Wakefield used faked data in his paper). Anyway here it is from:

Begin Quote
I'm going to run through the chronology again because it's important, the chronology of how this arose and how it was promoted. In 1996, Alexander Harris, a firm of solicitors in Great Britain, approached Andrew Wakefield and asked him to consult with them in cases involving MMR, allegations of MMR causing autism. Andrew Wakefield was paid 55,000 pounds for his efforts at that point.

Andrew Wakefield in 1997 took out a patent for a monovalent measles vaccine. In 1998, he published the paper that caused the stir that we've now seen reinterpreted, rearticulated a number of times until more than 10 years later we have it in our courtroom today.

He did not reveal at the time that he published that paper that he had this financial interest. He did not reveal that several of his patients in that paper were in fact litigants in the MMR litigation.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield approached John O'Leary and consulted with him. John O'Leary went on to set up Unigenetics, a company of which he was the director and shareholder. Unigenetics' purpose was to test samples for the U.K. MMR litigation.

Now, you've heard testimony about the reliability of that testing. You've seen the papers that have come out of that lab. In fact, the Uhlmann paper that was discussed here at length and relied on so heavily by the Petitioners, the patients, some of the patients at least, some of the patients in that case study were MMR litigants. There's a direct connection between that litigation and our litigation here. That litigation folded. Unigenetics went away, but we have it back here now in this case. It folded in 2004 after the whistle was blown on Andrew Wakefield and it was revealed his substantial financial connection with ongoing litigation.
End Quote

Also, do not forget this testimony from on pages 2284 to 2286:
Begin Quote
A A PCR test, a polymerase chain reaction.

Q What results did you receive from the gut biopsy materials for measles RNA?

A They were all negative.

Q They were always negative?

A Yes. There were a few cases of false positive results, which I used a method to see whether they were real positive results or false positive, and in every case they turned out to be false positive results. Essentially all the samples tested were negative.

Q So when you say you got a positive and it ends up being a false positive, what further testing or what did you do to determine that those positives were actually false positives?

A Well, we sequenced the products of the PCR reaction and could find out whereabouts the virus came from, and in every case it was a lab strain virus based on the sequence and didn't match up with any known wild-type or vaccine strains.

Q You sequenced wild-type that's in the lab for control or to make sure your testing worked?

A Yes, that's right. It was just to validate any positive samples. If we had a positive sample we would have to sequence it to make sure it was a real positive rather than a false positive.

Q Did you personally test CSF samples from autistic children in the lab?

A Yes, I did. Again, they were all negative. I can't recall how many I tested, but they were definitely negative, the ones I did test.

Q Did you personally test peripheral blood mononuclear cells, the PBMCs?

A Yes, that's right. I tested PBMC samples from the blood of the autistic patients and also cultured some of those blood cells in the lab to enable any measles virus present to replicate and become detectible, but in every case again the samples proved to be negative.

Q So you personally tested while you were in Dr. Wakefield's lab gut biopsy material, CSF and PBMCs?

A Yes, that's right.

Q And all the results were either negative, or if they were positive it always turned out that they were false positives?

A Yes, that's correct.

Q Did you inform Dr. Wakefield of the negative results?

A Yes. Yes.
End Quote

Now given that all the tests for measles were negative, why did Wakefield write in his paper that there were measles in those guts? This looks like he committed fraud.

The answer to your title question is very simple. It's n + 1 with n being the total number of studies to date.

HCN, Why did you stop there? What about the cross? Can you tell these brain scientists how to find the following 100 or so pages of transcripts that you ignored where this whore is exposed.


A 100 pages later they are cross examining Dr. Jeffery Brent, not Dr. Nicholas Chadwick. Chin-Caplan only really asked Dr. Chadwick a few scattered questions.

Could you be a bit more clear who you think is a "whore", and why?

Classic crankery. And proof that another study is futile. Any time they hear irrefutable proof that a claim is destroyed there is a conspiracy or someone is just a "whore".

Tedious really. In the governments case they had literally the world experts in real-time RT-PCR show up and discuss the results. It turned out that people in Wakefields own lab were finding contradictory results - and Wakefield ignored it. And when independently tested the results amplified in the reverse-transcriptase controls! Case closed, the evidence is total and complete crap.

This case is dead in the water. I look forward to the decision.

Even though the case is dead in the water, no decision will cause the cranks to keep pushing their agenda.

At the moment the Wakefield damage count is 3 dead chidren in Ireland, one dead boy in the UK, and countless other disabled children like these two:

Because of him there has been a mumps epidemic in the UK and in the American midwest. In the latter (from a book I am reading, see link below) "the virus infected four thousand poeple, mostly young adults, causing seizures, meningitis and deafness in about thirty people".

What is interesting is the MMR introduced into the UK in 1988 that was the focus of Wakefield's bought and paid for "research"... is the exact same MMR introduced into the USA in 1971. People seem to forget that little fact.

One of the main reasons for the switch to Merck's MMR from the UK one was due to the mumps strain. The Urabe strain caused meningitis, so it was prudent to switch to the much safer version with the Jeryl Lynn mumps strain.

I am presently reading the biography of Jeryl Lynn's father, Maurice Hilleman. It is a fascinating look into one man's work, and the history of vaccines in general. It also includes some interesting background on Kirby, Wakefield and others. It is an excellent read:…

Isn't it amazing there are no autistic Amish children.

Good points HCN, and those Times Online cases highlight the fact that it's not just the kids who haven't been vaccinated because their parents swallowed Wakefield's drivel who suffer. One might uncharitably and fleetingly think that the "no vaccines for us" parents deserve the misery of nursing a sick child, but immediately and guiltily realise that the kids don't deserve the misery or risk!

But I hadn't fully appreciated that there are also kids who can't be vaccinated so rely on the herd immunity from mass vaccination for their protection. It is an important public health issue.

On a more general point, there are some interesting parallels between the Autism Omnibus trial and the Dover Intelligent Design (Kitzmiller) trial.

In both trials, the denialist side produced witnesses who all performed poorly on the stand and were shredded in cross-examination -- in Dover there was Behe saying that science knows nothing about evolution of the immune system then being presented with 58 articles and books on the subject and school board witnesses being called liars by the judge; in the Autism trial there's Aposhian and his theory of thiomersal-induced damage that he had concocted "three or four weeks ago", Byers and her inflated CV (of course you're on a faculty if you've drunk coffee with them!), the apallingly bad choice of a test case (the poor girl at the centre of it clearly was having developmental problems long before her MMR, so could never be the best test case).

In both trials the scientific side produced seriously good working scientists and medics as expert witnesses (rather than shysters who earned their living from testifying rather than doing science) and the denialist side's counsel floundered in cross-examination, and never attacked the substance of the testimony, demolishing their case.

In both trials, the denialists tried a lot of manouvers to avoid having the case in court, moving for summary dismissal, trying to have expert witnesses excluded, anything. This is classic denialism, isn't it? -- "we really want this argument" but then running away and playing dirty when it happens! What was Dumbski doing that was so important that he couldn't make it to Dover after taking their money?

I'm sure there are more parallels, such as the involvement of specialist denialist lawyers (the Thomas More Law Centre and Clifford Shoemaker), so perhaps someone should write a paper on How to Run a Crap Denialist Trial?

One possibility is that it's another denialist tactic: "oh, our guys let us down at that trial, we'd have won if we'd put our case better", but I apply Occam's Razor and find that the most parsimonious explanation is that they're simply dishonest and incompetent.

It's so interesting that people without having studied the Amish think that they don't vaccinate and don't have autism.

They actually do vaccinate - they believe in Western medicine and everything. They tend not to be as rigorous, but they're not Christian Scientist or anything. See this article

Responses were received by 225 (60%) of the 374 Amish households in the community with children aged less than 15 years. An additional 120 responses were received by households without children. A total of 189 (84%) households with children reported
that all of their children had received vaccinations; 28 (12%) reported that some of their children had received vaccinations;

So, really, take that myth and shove it.

HCN, Glad to hear you're reading Mauice Hillman's biography. Does the book include the 1991 memo he wrote to Gordon Douglas, then the president of Merck's vaccine division? This memo was shown on the front page of the L.A. Times in a 2005 story. Gordon Douglas is now employed with the NIH. How cozy! In this memo Dr. Hillman warned Gordon that the Danish health authorities were banning thimerosal containing vaccines because they delivered a concentration of mercury 80 times (400 by today's standards) higher than their health regulations. Unfortunately, Merck ignored Dr. Hillman and buried the memo until it appeared again in the times article.

MH, You are one class act.

Hello HJ,

While I was at your mother's last night eating some Micky D's, we discussed crank and smoked a little too. Then we called Little John and asked if he could send us some more Crunk juice. You know epidimiologists should look into if Autism is caused by rap music. May Cedillio win and take all your vaccine money!

By Only The Truth (not verified) on 29 Jun 2007 #permalink

AS: as to your question about the Merck memo in Hilleman's biography. Yes, it is included, and in proper context (pages 175 to 176).

Also included is the fact that Kirby was paid to write his fear mongering book. From page 174:
"Finally the advocacy group Safe Minds commissioned a reporter, David Kirby, to write a book about the thimerosal-autism controversy. Kirby had never written a story about health, science, medicine or vaccines before. But with funding from a wealthy California financier, the book, _Evidence of Harm_, became one of the best-selling books in hte United States."

Also to JoAnn... Since the Amish DO vaccinate, wouldn't the "fact" that they don't have autism kind of destroy the "vaccines cause autism" myth?

Hello Mark H,

Please don't confuse the Amish with the Mormon's. If you look at what you wrote in your comments you clearly see that your information is hogwash and since I buy all my furniture from the Amish they have informed me that they never give their children vaccines. PERIOD. YEAAAAAAYAYA!!

By Little John (not verified) on 29 Jun 2007 #permalink

Hoofnagles!!!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! They must be a married couple.

By HAHAHAHA!!!! (not verified) on 29 Jun 2007 #permalink

Little John, that is the best comment ever.

I love it.

AS, you are full of shit and a crank. I will shed no tears if you take off forever.

Sure someone can claim that McDonald's causes autism---many an autism parent felt cheated when the Golden Archew announced a year or two ago that, despite saying that their fries were gluten-free, they actually contained some "trace amounts." Gnashing of teeth did ensue....... and fries and chicken mcnuggets continued to be called for.

I must have Autism because man, I have been eating McDonalds all my life. Since I was a little kid I ate Fried Chicken, Green Fried Tomatoes, Fried Zucchini, French Fries, Fried Ice Cream, Fried Twinkies, Refried Beans, I mean you name it. If my momma could fry it she would! I became an civil engineer and I do not recall ever anyone in my family having Autism. I think it must be the Burger King Fries or the Wendys Fries, perhaps the Dairy Queen Fries. Wait it must be the combination of the fries and the Milk Shakes. I think its the green milkshakes.

By Little john (not verified) on 29 Jun 2007 #permalink

Not only do the Amish vaccinate, but if we are to believe Generation Rescue's phone survey, autism is quite common among the unvaccinated (more common than is estimated in the general population). And that's funny considering that Dan Olmstead - the one who suggested there's no autism among the Amish - was the first to promote the results of the phone survey. It's extremely difficult to make heads or tails of their beliefs.