I really didn't mean for this to turn into the rant that it did. Many of my comments are directly related to this piece of work. At any rate, here it is:
I’m feeling kind of cranky today, so, in honor of that, I’m going to skewer some of the idiocy over at Age of Autism, just for kicks and giggles. (Note: I am not in any way trying to denigrate parents of children with autism or make light of their very difficult situations. However, I have no sympathy for a complete lack of understanding of science. No personal attacks here. You’ll have to go over the AoA for that.)
The personal attacks I have a real problem with. Titles of articles like “Is Autism Speaks' Geri Dawson a Blithering Idiot?” really piss me off. I appreciate that in blogs, even with highly moderated comments, worthwhile discussions do sometimes dissolve into personal attacks. If this were a one time thing, perhaps I could overlook it. However, this type of attack seems to be standard fodder at AoA, and it really bothers me. Sure, have a position, feel strongly about it, disagree with people that feel otherwise. But no matter how strongly you feel, someone that disagrees with you is not inherently a blithering idiot.
Sometimes, though, it is the case that there’s some blithering idiocy going on. Like I said, I’m not going to attack people, but statements like this:
When Thomas Burbacher released a study in 2005 showing that Thimerosal, when injected into chimps…
reek of idiocy. I think the problem with this statement would be immediately obvious to anyone that has ever done research with animals. In fact, my first thought was, “There’s no way in hell chimps were used for that study!!!” A quick look at the abstract verified my initial thought. Chimps weren’t used in that study, macaques were. Of course, what a minor detail! Why would such a thing matter??? This becomes one of those things where if you can’t get that type of simple detail right, why should I believe anything you say? Apparently I’m the only one reading AoA that bothers to notice this type of thing (notwithstanding a few other folks whose comments I’m sure don’t get posted ever).
Speaking of comments, the attitude that commenters that don’t tow the line of whatever “ideals” or whatever are supposed to be adhered to are attacked. Viciously, oftentimes, and without regard to what the commenter actually said. This is particularly disturbing when a poster is merely pointing out flawed logic, without taking a side of the issue.
Let’s get a couple of things straight. The fact you have a kid with autism doesn’t make you an authority on all things autism, and definitely does not make you an expert on science or vaccines. Sure, you are far and away the best at dealing with your child and whatever particular issues they have. And I’m sure that you are your child’s biggest advocate. I don’t have a problem with that. I have a problem with you being wrong. I have a problem with you using lies and bad logic to try to drag other parents over to your side without regard for the potential consequences.
There is no giant conspiracy among the “medical profession” to cover up anything. Every doctor, nurse, scientist, lab tech, etc. are not somehow “contaminated” by pharma money. Speaking of which, the pharma shill thing gets old. Just because somebody doesn’t agree with you doesn’t mean some big, mean pharmaceutical company is paying them. (Although seriously, I could use a little extra cash.) Likewise, the fact that someone has an interest in the vaccine/autism issue doesn’t mean they’re being paid to comment on internet forums taking the vaccine side.
There is no such thing as a truly independent scientist. The money always comes from somewhere. Much of that money comes from the government (of various countries). That doesn’t mean the government controls what gets published.
With regards to Paul Offit’s book, if your so-called “biomedical” treatments are so efficacious, then why isn’t there more peer reviewed scientific support of all these different approaches? Even the big, mean scientists that are out to give kids autism by insisting they receive their vaccines aren’t opposed to legitimate, safe, efficacious treatments, right? Where’s the data?
Quote mining is a useful way to make a point. It is also a particularly useful means to twist an individual’s words. It also pisses me off and makes me trust you less. There are some of us out there that read the original quotes you use in context. Of course, if we call you out on this type of thing at AoA, the comments surely wouldn’t be published. Or perhaps an editor would thank you for focusing on an irrelevant detail rather than the story at hand.
Understand the difference between a theory and a hypothesis. Seriously.
“This increase starts precisely when the Hepatitis B shot was administered at birth, beginning in the late 1980’s.” Let’s not be bothered by facts here. Universal immunization of infants against Hepatitis B was recommended by the CDC in November 1991 (MMWR Recomm Rep. 1991 Nov 22;40(RR-13):1-25.).
“Incredibly, the symptoms of mercury poisoning and Autism are identical. They aren’t kind of similar, or sort of the same, they are identical.” Oh really? I suppose I would fall into the category of “one of those ignorant physicians often quoted who only know mercury toxicity in the form of Acrodynia or Minimata Disease and fail to understand the other ways it may manifest.” Only not a physician.
And now, since I haven’t bothered to do any science today, let’s talk about some particularly juicy bits of misinformation in the “table” the author apparently (poorly) reproduced from Changing the Course of Autism (Jepsen):
• “Causes overproduction of Th2 subset; kills/inhibits lymphocytes, T-cells, and monocytes; decreases NK T-cell activity; induces or suppresses IGNg & IL-2” (Note, I’m assuming this should be IFNg, because that’s what makes the most sense.) ‘Cause, ya know, T cells aren’t lymphocytes or anything. And there’s “overproduction” of Th2, but killing/inhibition of T cells? IFNg and IL-2 can be either induced or suppressed? Erm, okay…
• “Skewed immune-cell subset in the Th2 direction; decreased response to T-cells mitogens; reduced NK T0cell function; increased IFNg & IL-12” Is there an immunologist in the house? Quick lesson…IL-12 stimulates IFNg production. Which inhibits Th2 responses (obviously a vast oversimplification, but still). And “immune-cell subset in the Th2 direction”? WTF does that mean? T cells can be skewed towards a Th2 phenotype…maybe that’s what they meant?
Time out…this particular bit is just too easy. I need to move on. However, the fact that the section regarding the supposed similarities between mercury poisoning and autism has a number of typos, doesn’t exactly boost my confidence in the content. If your “facts” are wrong, why in the world should I take you seriously? (And typos, misspellings, etc….I got no sympathy for bad editing. Period.)
But, ya know, if there were any real scientific references in there, perhaps I might be persuaded. Some person reproducing some list from some book isn’t going to convince me that the symptoms of mercury poisoning and autism are absolutely identical. Forgive me, dear reader, for expecting evidence. And integrity.