A Reasoned Ruling
March 12, 2010 3:32 PM   Subscribe

The "vaccine court" branch of the United States Court of Claims rejected claims in three test cases that mercury preservative in vaccines caused autism. The magistrates of the court ruled in three of over 5,000 pending cases. The three cases were considered the strongest of the claims brought. A little over a year ago, the court also rejected claims that the MMR vaccine causes autism. The burden of proof on the families bringing claims was only to show that the vaccines probably caused the disorder, not that they certainly did. But the court opined that "the theory of vaccine related causation is scientifically unsupportable."
posted by bearwife (124 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Science: It works bitch.
posted by fuq at 3:33 PM on March 12, 2010 [19 favorites]


Actually, it's called the United States Court of Federal Claims. It was once called the Court of Claims, but was changed in 1982 to United States Claims Court, and then in 1992 to United States Court of Federal Claims. It is a very interesting court, actually.
posted by The World Famous at 3:37 PM on March 12, 2010


World Famous is right. My proofing error.
posted by bearwife at 3:38 PM on March 12, 2010


Needles to say, the court's injection punctures that vein of argument.
posted by sallybrown at 3:41 PM on March 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


And now the plaintiffs are crazy and persecuted.
posted by GuyZero at 3:42 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


A lot of people still call it the Court of Claims - it's a common mistake. Not a big deal. I just find that court quite interesting so I'm a bit of a pedant about it. The idea that there exists a forum wherein citizens can sue the soveriegn and that the United States has, in certain fairly broad circumstances, waived sovereign immunity for that purpose, is pretty cool.
posted by The World Famous at 3:42 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


I still shed a tear for any lives lost or ruined by their parents' refusal to immunize because they were under the sway of the charlatains.

I'd also be saddened by the way this taints all those who challenge the claims of the corrupt Drug Cos, except that the vast majority of them are even MORE dishonest and malevolent than Big Pharma. And that is one of the greatest shames of our age.
posted by oneswellfoop at 3:47 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know this isn't going to convince all the Jenny McCarthys of anything.
posted by tommasz at 3:47 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it's a shame that legitimate criticisms of pharmaceutical companies tend to get lumped in with antivax assholery.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:48 PM on March 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


Just out of curiosity, does the mercury=autism idea have any traction in other developed nations, or is it just the US?
posted by lekvar at 3:49 PM on March 12, 2010


lekvar It's at least as popular, if not more so, in the UK, which is where the latest round of hysteria (fanned and supported by newspapers desperate for circulation) began.
posted by ubernostrum at 3:56 PM on March 12, 2010


MSM! Look! The door is open for you to all go "science proves this insane anti-vaccine belief is, in fact, insane and the law agrees" and then point out that all the people who still believe this despite science and law and reality are provable, willfully ignorant or deceitful. Having practiced once calling out these people, you can start being more aggressive about calling out everyone who lies about a point of scientific fact or objective reality instead of offering "divergent opinions" on issues that are matters of fact and not opinion.

Pretty soon you'll be actually reporting the news again.

This may be your last chance.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:00 PM on March 12, 2010 [34 favorites]


I have a feeling that a Federal court making a ruling on a scientific issue that affects consumers will not be very persuasive to a lot of the nuts out there.
posted by jabberjaw at 4:11 PM on March 12, 2010


Judges will just turn out to be in on the conspiracy.
posted by fourcheesemac at 4:42 PM on March 12, 2010


“The deck is stacked against families in vaccine court. Government attorneys defend a government program, using government-funded science, before government judges,” Rebecca Estepp, of the Coalition for Vaccine Safety said in a statement.
from the Globe and Mail's article, I assume it's in one of the others.

I look forward to these people taking on the criminal court next, as it's Government attorneys prosecuting under a government law, using government-funded investigators, before government judges.
No?
posted by Lemurrhea at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


GRRRRRAAAAAAH!!!

OF COURSE VACCINES DON'T CAUSE AUTISM!!

Now if you'll please excuse me, my head has a date with a wall.
posted by zizzle at 4:51 PM on March 12, 2010


I solve this heavy moral dilemma about vaccines by opting out of procreation.

I'm gonna go watch a movie.
posted by Malice at 5:00 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


(I should also mention it will be a nice, quiet movie with no interruptions or screaming children. And rated R. Or possibly NR. Or X.)
posted by Malice at 5:01 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Pretty soon you'll be actually reporting the news again.

Ah, but siding with the crazies means more stories from the crazies. "Science claims that X didn't cause Y, but these people feel differently. Here's what they say ... *insert passionate clip, sad picture* ... But what does this man in a lab coat think? ... *dry, less interesting talk of studies and numbers* ... Visit our website, www.KXYZ.com, and fill out our poll to voice your thoughts! We'll have the results at 10pm!"

The problem is that MSM isn't in the business of telling the facts, that's dull, and dull doesn't sell. They're paid to "tell it like it is," which doesn't always mean science, or even basic fact-checking, wins. Plus, it's quicker to poll the people and get passionate soundbites versus vouching that someone actually has valid credentials that back up their thoughts.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:22 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


While I agree that it's irrational to think vaccines cause autism, it's important to remember that the people who believe this aren't stupid or intentionally anti-science. They're just concerned parents, often trying to find any reason for why their child is different. They often have a looser understanding of science than they would need to understand the studies behind all of this. My mom (I have a high functioning autistic sister) was one of them for a long time, but she gave up when she saw that autism wasn't going down after the mercury was removed from the vaccines.

It's really just sad all around. What's a shame is that one of the members in the movement is a celebrity who's good at building up a media following. I don't think for a second that Jenny McCarthy has ulterior motives. She's just simply a loving, confused mother who thinks she's on to something that could help other parents. She's very wrong (chelation is expensive and dangerous), but she's not a bad person.
posted by mccarty.tim at 5:24 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


am just waiting for the Genome Project and the University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project to prove that blanket statements like this one are bad science. but until then, i'll have to put up with the callousness of all the allopathology zealots here in MeFi who laugh at autism parents.

btw: one thing that's missed in this whole wahwahing about vaccines is that under the GOP, FDA regulations were relaxed. excessive relaxed by some people's standards (remember Vioxx?)

a lot of these parents want more regulation of pharmaceutical companies; meaning, forcing to put more money into R&D. the pharmaceutical companies want to be completely deregulated and don't want to spend money into building new personal imjury evidence.

here's one instance when a lot of the a lot of allegedly "smarter people than those autism ignorants" get played by the big pharmaceutical companies like a fiddle.

so to all the MeFites gloating, you're all tools.

there's a lot of work being done around immunology that is exciting and groundbreaking because it's looking at cross-synergies as well as genetic predisposition in a whole new way.

but these companies do not want to put money into re-searching based on these new groundbreaking studies.

hence, the push to smear autism-by-vaccine parents mercilessly.
posted by liza at 5:29 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


but until then, i'll have to put up with the callousness of all the allopathology zealots here in MeFi who laugh at autism parents.

I don't know about anyone else, but I'm not laughing at anyone in this case.

However, I do feel a degree of antipathy towards people who refuse to accept that in this life, sometimes shit happens and no one is at fault for it.

And I feel a whole hell of a lot of antipathy towards the lawyers who represented these folks. Ambulance chasers are beneath contempt.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:33 PM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


you're all tools

blanket statements like this one are bad science

posted by sallybrown at 5:35 PM on March 12, 2010 [9 favorites]


a lot of these parents want more regulation of pharmaceutical companies

True, but a lot of these parents are also casting about for someone to blame.
posted by lekvar at 5:37 PM on March 12, 2010


too many spelling errors but wanted to point out i meant "re-researching".

people don't get that this really has nothing to do with bad science but with bad FDA policy.

last time i checked (a few years ago, when Bush was still around) re-researching new personal injury liabilities was completely left up to the pharmaceutical company. when i worked at Colgate-Palmovie as one of the people writing the official excuses given by their Consumer Affairs dept in cases of potential personal injury, i was adviced by the company's lawyers that the laws were changed so that drugs only complied with the minimum needed for approval.

Colgate-Palmolive didnt have to research how, for example, TRICLOSAN could affect the skin natural flora and create all sorts of immunological problems during a period of time. All they needed to do was to prove it could go to market w/o killing too many people.

plunking money into post-approval R&D for personal injury is a big no-no at a lot of pharmaceutical companies. it's all about business and nothing to do with actual science.
posted by liza at 5:41 PM on March 12, 2010


In this case, they ruled the vaccine didn't cause autism, but in the past, they have. Well, not quite
Days later, the girl began spiraling downward into a cascade of illnesses and setbacks that, within months, presented as symptoms of autism, including: No response to verbal direction; loss of language skills; no eye contact; loss of "relatedness;" insomnia; incessant screaming; arching; and "watching the florescent lights repeatedly during examination."

Seven months after vaccination, the patient was diagnosed by Dr. Andrew Zimmerman, a leading neurologist at the Kennedy Krieger Children's Hospital Neurology Clinic, with "regressive encephalopathy (brain disease) with features consistent with autistic spectrum disorder, following normal development." The girl also met the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) official criteria for autism.

In its written concession, the government said the child had a pre-existing mitochondrial disorder that was "aggravated" by her shots, and which ultimately resulted in an ASD diagnosis.
In other words, the vaccines caused an actual identifiable disease, which has similar side effects to autism. Yes, that article is in the HuffPo, which is very anti-vax for some reason, but the courts position on this isn't quite as black and white as you're portraying here.

They may have found that thimerosal itself doesn't cause autism (which is pretty obvious) but they have in the past found that regressive encephalopathy, an Autism like condition has been caused due to complications that arose from vaccination in general. In at least one case.

The whole reason this court exists is that in some cases there are sometimes negative side effects to vaccination.

Uh, I'm not an anti-vaxxer (Seems ridiculous that I even have to point that out) but if you're going to make an argument by authority to this court then you really have to deal with the other rulings they've come up with in the past.
posted by delmoi at 5:42 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


and by the way, i am past the 7 years post-employment threshold that contractually BANNED ME from talking or writing about this. and i was just the corporate communications specialist for the CA dpt. writing the scripts everybody used to give excuses about personal injury or property damage liabilities.

imagine lawyers and researchers at these companies. some of them can't talk about any of the products they worked on for the rest of their lives.

so again, as someone who was in the thick of things in the 1990s when these laws changed, i dont see this as parents being ignorant assholes but as pharma companies getting away with half-assed personal injury research that protects their bottom-line. why? because i protected that bottom-line with those scripts i wrote.
posted by liza at 5:49 PM on March 12, 2010


but if you're going to make an argument by authority to this court

Certainly, but there's no need to do that. All of the research supports one conclusion, no research (certainly none I'm aware of that hasn't been revoked/debunked) supports the other conclusion.
posted by wildcrdj at 5:51 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


OF COURSE VACCINES DON'T CAUSE AUTISM!!

I don't see the 'of course' here at all, for autism or any other side effect. Vaccines and medications can have unpredictable side effects. It's worth looking into them.

I think the only 'of course' argument to be made is: "Of course the risks of side effects due to vaccination are much lower than the risks involved with not vaccinating."
posted by empath at 6:03 PM on March 12, 2010


you're all tools
blanket statements like this one are bad science

posted by sallybrown at 8:35 PM

i favorited and then took it back. you completely took away the context of my comment --which, btw, happens to alot of the people who dare to question the bad personal injury science of pharmaceuticals.


i said "so to all the MeFites gloating, you're all tools."

by taking away the "GLOATING" you completely misconstrued my words.
posted by liza at 6:06 PM on March 12, 2010


callousness of all the allopathology zealots here in MeFi who laugh at autism parents
you completely misconstrued my words


My point was that blanket statements like the ones above can be incorrect and unnecessarily inflammatory. Not everyone here is a tool, and not even everyone "gloating" is a "tool"--if there are people here gloating at all.

You seem to think that people who disagree with the vaccination theory harbor its proponents ill will, but most of the things I've read here are more like "Yay! The court made a reasoned decision based on the evidence they had" than "Yay! I hate these stupid vaccine = autism people, I'm glad they lost!"

And maybe keep in mind that not all parents of children with autism support the vaccination link--some of the "allopathology zealots" you're so fed up with may be the very same "autism parents" you accuse them of laughing at.
posted by sallybrown at 6:26 PM on March 12, 2010 [4 favorites]


Ok WTH is allopathology supposed to mean? Google dictionary comes up blank.
posted by MrLint at 6:34 PM on March 12, 2010


Oh, and many of the people who do believe in the vaccination theory are themselves not "autism parents."

So it's illogical to say "mocking vaccination theory" = "mocking parents of autistic children."
posted by sallybrown at 6:35 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]




Ok WTH is allopathology supposed to mean? Google dictionary comes up blank.

It's probably a misspelled attempt at "allopathy," which is a derogatory term made up by the founder of homeopathy to describe evidence-based medicine. Some people use it as a term to differentiate those with an MD from those with a DO. But more often than not, it's used in a derogatory manner by people who are opposed to evidence-based medicine.
posted by The World Famous at 6:42 PM on March 12, 2010 [11 favorites]


Ok WTH is allopathology supposed to mean? Google dictionary comes up blank.

She means allopathy. That's what people who believe in homeopathy call real medicine.
posted by signalnine at 6:43 PM on March 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Good thing I know that Jenny McCarthy PhD (Univ. of Google) will never rest in her quest to make sure that no child is ever vaccinated again!
posted by CarlRossi at 6:45 PM on March 12, 2010


here's one instance when a lot of the a lot of allegedly "smarter people than those autism ignorants" get played by the big pharmaceutical companies like a fiddle.


In your whole diatribe against big pharma, have you provided one piece of evidence that backs you up? One cite? One link?

My son was diagnosed on the spectrum as well, and conspiracy theorists like you make me sick. You are scaring people into not vaccinating their kids. You are diverting needed funds for autism research into yet another study on the "link' between vaccines and autism.

All of you anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorists rant about how the court or the CDC are bought off by big money big pharma in their attempt to deceive the public.

You're asking me to buy a conspiracy that would have to involve the federal government, the CDC, the WHO, the FDA, a large majority of scientists and doctors and countless others all to make Big Pharma money off of vaccines at the expense of our kids? Isn't there an easier way to make money? Did people stop buying viagra and rogaine?

Here's an easier explanation to swallow. Big money ambulance chasing plaintiff's attorneys that want to go after the deep pockets of Big Pharma. They funded Andrew Wakefield. RFK jr is a plaintiff's attorney.


She's just simply a loving, confused mother who thinks she's on to something that could help other parents. She's very wrong (chelation is expensive and dangerous), but she's not a bad person.

Children can die from not being vaccinated. Or from chelation. Or other snake oil autism treatments. If she's not bad, she's willfully ignorant. And her aggressive ignorance combined with her platform will most likely mean that children will die because of her. If that's not bad, what is?
posted by cjets at 6:48 PM on March 12, 2010 [26 favorites]


While I agree that it's irrational to think vaccines cause autism,

I don't believe the argument is that vaccines cause the condition but the Mercury in the vaccines.

it's all about business and nothing to do with actual science

Other things that have little to do with actual science is courts and laws as created.

All of the research supports one conclusion, no research (certainly none I'm aware of that hasn't been revoked/debunked) supports the other conclusion.

And who pays for the research? How exactly do you propose to do ACTUAL double blind research - get/make multiple genetically (almost) identical humans so that their environment can be controlled so that just the effect of Mercury exposure via blood stream can be observed?

Large Companies have a history of making decisions to boost their profits at the expense of consumers. They have a history of not doing research that would show harm and of hiding research when it does show harm. They have a history of claiming other factors are the reason for event X and not

When you make such a grand claim about "research" - do show your work. Show how the research has not been done with a predeteremed outcome.

Or, gosh - plenty of research shows Mercury is a heavy metal toxin. Why should it be added? (Hint: profit!) Why is the burden of proof not "this does NO harm"?
posted by rough ashlar at 6:52 PM on March 12, 2010


Show how the research has not been done with a predeteremed outcome.

What do you mean? The scientific method is based on testing hypotheses. Are you characterizing a hypothesis as a "predetermined outcome?" Because testing a hypothesis is the whole point of the scientific method.
posted by The World Famous at 6:55 PM on March 12, 2010


Why is the burden of proof not "this does NO harm"

If, as you imply (How exactly do you propose to do ACTUAL double blind research), it's impossible to prove to you that "this does NO harm," then why would anyone ever use that as a metric?

And if someone did decide to, wouldn't it mean that this magic scientist would have to test not only mercury in vaccines but also every single substance a child came into contact with during and up to the moment she was diagnosed as autistic? The burden of proof is not "this does NO harm" because that's an illogical way to go about discovering the cause of a disease that could theoretically be caused by millions of different things.
posted by sallybrown at 7:02 PM on March 12, 2010


Ok WTH is allopathology supposed to mean? Google dictionary comes up blank.

It's probably a misspelled attempt at "allopathy," which is a derogatory term made up by the founder of homeopathy to describe evidence-based medicine. Some people use it as a term to differentiate those with an MD from those with a DO. But more often than not, it's used in a derogatory manner by people who are opposed to evidence-based medicine.


Ahh well explains a few things. I was going to start to analyze Liza's screed there, but given this and a few other non-sequitr things in her post, I see now it's a fools errand.

Also, in regards to the mercury preservative, according to wiki, it was phased out by 2001 for infant vaccines, this would lead us to conclude that were it a factor in infant autism, the rate should have gone down.
posted by MrLint at 7:04 PM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


I don't believe the argument is that vaccines cause the condition but the Mercury in the vaccines.
There's no mercury in children's vaccines.
Or, gosh - plenty of research shows Mercury is a heavy metal toxin. Why should it be added? (Hint: profit!) Why is the burden of proof not "this does NO harm"?
Which is why they removed it! There was no observed harm, but people decided there wasn't enough of a reason to use it, so it was removed. It hasn't been in routine children's vaccines since 2001. However, Autism rates have not gone down, so obviously it wasn't the cause.
posted by delmoi at 7:05 PM on March 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


but if you're going to make an argument by authority to this court then you really have to deal with the other rulings they've come up with in the past.

First of all, I wouldn't use David Kirby as a source for good information about vaccines.

Second, the vaccine court never ruled that vaccines caused autism. In this case, they found that Hannah Poling had a condition that was aggravated by vaccines, leading to encephalopathy, not autism. The court ruled that compensation was appropriate. Dr. Steven Novella, who is an actual neurologist, has a pretty good discussion of the case here.
posted by lexicakes at 7:07 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or, gosh - plenty of research shows Mercury is a heavy metal toxin. Why should it be added? (Hint: profit!) Why is the burden of proof not "this does NO harm"?

Not all compounds of all thing are equally chemically or biologically reactive. And certainly some, like mercury are generally more toxic. However some elements when bound in a compound can be either more or less biologically reactive then the straight up element. I recall reading much about the a researcher studying arsenic compounds for medical purposes. Also as I recall they were all pretty much toxic, but to differing degrees. Biological systems don't always behave in predictable ways.
posted by MrLint at 7:15 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know this isn't going to convince all the Jenny McCarthys of anything.

Actually, Jenny McCarthy no longer believes vaccines caused her kid's autism. Because it appears that he never had autism.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:17 PM on March 12, 2010


Why is the burden of proof not "this does NO harm"?

Because this is an unrealistic standard. Every medical intervention carries some risk. You have to weigh risks versus benefits.

To take a specific case, let's consider the MMR vaccine, there is a small chance of adverse events, such as low-grade fever (5-15%), and an even smaller chance of serious adverse events, such as allergic reaction. According to the CDC, Central nervous system (CNS) conditions, including encephalitis and encephalopathy, have been reported with a frequency of less than one per million doses administered.

On the other hand, 3 in 1000 people who contract Measles will die. Other complications include encephalitis, corneal ulceration, and pneumonia.

So, when refusing the vaccine because of the miniscule possibility of a severe adverse event, it's important to take into account the risk of not vaccinating. The probability of dying from Measles is far greater than the probability of having a severe reaction to the vaccine.
posted by lexicakes at 7:23 PM on March 12, 2010 [10 favorites]


Actually, Jenny McCarthy no longer believes vaccines caused her kid's autism.

Oh, how I wish this were true. This recent article shows she's just as nutty as ever. Not to mention her nonsense in the HuffPo, which I won't link to because they don't deserve the traffic.
posted by lexicakes at 7:36 PM on March 12, 2010


One of the things that frustrates me so much about trying to discuss the vaccine-autism theory is that many of the people who believe in it don't seem to understand how scientific determination actually works. "So they haven't found a correlation," they say. "That doesn't mean there isn't one."

Well, see, here's the thing, is that's not how it works. If I try to plot the incidence of two different factors on a scatter graph and I get nothing but noise, it's not that I haven't found a correlation. It's that I've found the LACK of a correlation. Absence of evidence, in this kind of study, really is evidence of absence! It's not a needle in a haystack; it's an egg in a box. If you open the box, and there's no egg inside, it's dumb to say "Well just because we haven't found the egg doesn't mean there's not one in there!"
posted by KathrynT at 7:46 PM on March 12, 2010 [21 favorites]


Once again, humans demonstrate the impossibility of rationally evaluating risks.

*lights another cigarette*
posted by warbaby at 7:52 PM on March 12, 2010


Not all compounds of all thing are equally chemically or biologically reactive. And certainly some, like mercury are generally more toxic. However some elements when bound in a compound can be either more or less biologically reactive then the straight up element.

Right. Like: I wouldn't pop a hunk of sodium in my mouth but I like sodium chloride on my fries.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 7:53 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or, gosh - plenty of research shows Mercury is a heavy metal toxin. Why should it be added? (Hint: profit!)

Ah, yes, it's certainly cheaper to add extra compounds to a vaccine, making it much more profitable!

Look, everything is "toxic" - in the right amount, under the right circumstances. (Heck, chemotherapy drugs work simply because they're more damaging to fast-dividing cancer cells than they are for us.) That goes for nutrients, too. Iron and copper and zinc? Guess what, your body needs them in order to function, but too much of them will do nasty things to you too! Arsenic? Generally to be avoided, unless you have certain kinds of cancer, in which case it turns out that a few arsenic compounds are helpful as tracers or drugs. See, some compounds containing metals are worse than others for you, because it's not just the metal, but what the metal's bound to that matters. Same goes for mercury. No one has yet shown that small amounts of thiomersal or ethylmercury are going to hurt you in the way that methyl mercury would.

In situations where you can make sure you're getting the vaccine fresh, or where you can replace thiomersal with another preservative that'll keep the vaccines from going bad in transit, go ahead and be paranoid if you like. But nothing's shown that the amount that used to be used in vaccines was dangerous, and claiming in a scary voice "mercury is a heavy metal toxin" (as if that is accurate, and equally accurate, for all mercury compounds) just illustrates the fact that you really don't know what you're talking about. And if you can't imagine why one might want preservatives in a vaccine - which is what, in fact, thiomersal was - then you're showing scant empathy for people who live in areas where things like polio (yes, polio) are still extant, who aren't lucky enough to live in first world countries where it's a simple thing to get a fresh vaccine.
posted by ubersturm at 7:54 PM on March 12, 2010 [8 favorites]


liza: "but until then, i'll have to put up with the callousness of all the allopathology zealots here in MeFi who laugh at autism parents. "

The word you're looking for is allopathy, and it's a term made up by the inventor of homeopathy, to describe doctors so crazy, so totally out there, that they treat disease with medicines that don't actually cause the symptoms they're meant to treat.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:56 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


lexicakes: "To take a specific case, let's consider the MMR vaccine, there is a small chance of adverse events, such as low-grade fever (5-15%), and an even smaller chance of serious adverse events, such as allergic reaction. According to the CDC, Central nervous system (CNS) conditions, including encephalitis and encephalopathy, have been reported with a frequency of less than one per million doses administered.

On the other hand, 3 in 1000 people who contract Measles will die. Other complications include encephalitis, corneal ulceration, and pneumonia.
"

While I agree with you, you're not comparing apples and apples here. One in one million is of people vaccinated, which is pretty much everyone, while 3 in 1000 is people who contract Measles, which I assume is a relatively small portion of the population, especially now that most people are vaccinated, and even if most people weren't. How common was measles before vaccination programs?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:58 PM on March 12, 2010


How common was measles before vaccination programs?

According to the NIH, around a half million cases every year. That's about seven times higher than the incidence of new cases of HIV in 1993, which was peak year for new infections.
posted by KathrynT at 8:10 PM on March 12, 2010


JZ, the reason that measles is uncommon is herd immunity. If everyone stops vaccinating, measles will come back, and you'll get millions of cases per year -- and thousands will die.

How common was measles before vaccination programs?

Pretty much universal.

I was a kid before the measles vaccine was developed, and virtually everyone got it. More than once, in fact; there are three separate strains of measles and I got all of them. I also got rubella ("German measles") and chickenpox and mumps. It was pretty much expected that all kids would get all of those.

In fact, when it came to rubella and mumps, it was seen as desirable to get them overwith when you were a kid. One time my mom took my sister and me to see, and play with, a kid who had rubella in hopes that we'd catch it.

The apples-to-apples comparison is how many people suffer adverse effects from universal administration of vaccines versus how many people would suffer adverse effects from measles (and mumps and rubella) if no one was vaccinated -- and the latter was several orders of magnitude worse than the former.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:18 PM on March 12, 2010 [6 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler > One in one million is of people vaccinated, which is pretty much everyone, while 3 in 1000 is people who contract Measles, which I assume is a relatively small portion of the population, especially now that most people are vaccinated, and even if most people weren't.

Ottawa just experienced a minor earthquake, caused by my head slamming into my desk. If you don't vaccinate, the number of people vulnerable to the measles will increase annually by, well, whatever the birth rate is. Apparently, the herd immunity threshold for the measles starts is 83-94%.

Joakim Ziegler > How common was measles before vaccination programs?

The CDC says:
At the beginning of the 20th century, infectious diseases were widely prevalent in the United States and exacted an enormous toll on the population. For example, in 1900, 21,064 smallpox cases were reported, and 894 patients died (1). In 1920, 469,924 measles cases were reported, and 7575 patients died; 147,991 diphtheria cases were reported, and 13,170 patients died. In 1922, 107,473 pertussis cases were reported, and 5099 patients died (2,3).
posted by Decimask at 8:30 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


My mother had polio as a child. The vaccine had been invented but their family was poor (lived near San Diego, CA).

She is 4' 11" tall in a family where 6' would be more usual. She requires a leg brace and a cane to walk and considers herself lucky that she got off that lightly.

People nowadays just cannot seem to get their brain around the fact that the alternative to vaccines is not a minor case of the sniffles.
posted by Riemann at 8:35 PM on March 12, 2010 [15 favorites]


Joakim Ziegler, I apologise. That was exceedingly prickish of me.
posted by Decimask at 8:36 PM on March 12, 2010


Joakim Ziegler: Measles is a very contagious disease. It can linger in the air and infect people for up to 2 hours after an infected person has left the room. This site claims, "The contagion index reaches nearly 100%, meaning that nearly every unimmunized person coming in close contact with a patient will also become infected with measles." According to the WHO, there were 164,000 measles deaths worldwide in 2008. The number of Measles cases has actually fallen 74% between 2000 and 2007, due to a vaccination campaign.

The Wikipedia article on the Measles vaccine shows that before the vaccine, there were about 400,000 to 800,000 Measles cases annually in the US. That would mean 1200-2400 deaths. Of course, the rate is much lower now, with the CDC reporting an average of 63 cases per year from 2000-2007, but with an increase to 131 cases in 2008 (probably due to the anti-vaccine movement).

Yes, the vaccination rate is high enough that Measles cases in developed nations are fairly rare now. However, with a disease that is so highly infectious, which is still endemic in other parts of the world, it isn't unreasonable to assume that there would be high infection rates if the vaccination rate dropped by too much. Indeed, there has already been a comeback in the UK.
posted by lexicakes at 8:36 PM on March 12, 2010


Also, the people who usually suffer from the horrible, horrible parents who refuse to vaccinate are not their own children. It everyone their brood comes into contact with. Babies too young to have been vaccinated yet. People who are vaccinated but immune-compromised like a relative going through chemotherapy.

Parents who choose not to vaccinate put their own children at risk but unlike most other forms of well-intentioned child abuse they also endanger their communities and society as a whole.
posted by Riemann at 8:39 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


even if most people weren't. How common was measles before vaccination programs? -- Joakim Ziegler

Ah, a question for us old timers.

Everyone got the measles. Every kid I knew got it. In fact if you didn't get it your parents went out of their way to make sure you did get it because there was no vaccine and it was much worse for adults to get it than for kids.

My parents did that with me and the mumps, and I never quite trusted them the same way again. "You took me to some strange house and you want me to play with this obviously very sick kid??? What the heck are you trying to do to me????"
(I never did get the mumps--and I'm unvaccinated--a scary thought. They wouldn't vaccinate me as an adult).

Yes, some kids got some serious complications from it. The parents would never give us any details about it, however.
posted by eye of newt at 9:01 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


Liza, you are going to have to find the shift key to be taken seriously.
posted by LarryC at 9:32 PM on March 12, 2010 [7 favorites]


That 400,000-800,000 figure has to be taken in context of the population size. In the 1950's, before those vaccines, the population of the US was maybe 175 million. Now it's over 300 million. If we stop vaccinating, the yearly rate would eventually reach upwards of one and a quarter million.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:34 PM on March 12, 2010


Vaccines do not invariably create immunity. The percentage of people who develop immunity if vaccinated is quite high, but it isn't 100%. But if everyone is vaccinated, then the overall percentage who do develop immunity will be high enough so that the others will be protected by herd immunity.

Some zealots claim that the decision should be theirs alone because they're the only ones taking the risk. But that's not so. If too many zealots refuse to vaccinate, the total immunity rate can drop below the critical threshold and herd immunity fails. That means that the unlucky ones who got the vaccine (and ran the negligible risk involved) could be exposed to the disease and catch it anyway, thus getting the worst of both worlds.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:38 PM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]


You know, all of this could be fixed by a simple law. If you don't vaccinate your kids, and they get a vaccine-preventable disease, and transfer it to someone who can't be vaccinated, hasn't been vaccinated, or simply gets it anyway, you should be civilly liable for any damages that occur. Once a couple of people get their bank accounts cleaned out because their precious little snowflake transferred the whooping cough to someone else's baby and it died (which has already happened), maybe they'll get the message.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:50 PM on March 12, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh, that should read 'hasn't been vaccinated yet', as in people too young to vaccinate. They're the ones who have suffered the most, so far.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:52 PM on March 12, 2010


Chocolate Pickle > That 400,000-800,000 figure has to be taken in context of the population size. In the 1950's, before those vaccines, the population of the US was maybe 175 million. Now it's over 300 million. If we stop vaccinating, the yearly rate would eventually reach upwards of one and a quarter million.

I'm too lazy to re-find it, but the US pop in 1920 was around 100,000,000, so from the number I got about 0.5% of the population contracted the measles in any given year. I don't know if it follows that rates of infection would remain as high, as our standard of living is much higher.

Of course, not all 300,000,000 people in the US get the vaccine every year. If we assume, say, a butt-pulled number of 10 million doses per year (5 million people getting two MMR shots, which I think is how MMR works), that's 5-10 people having a severe reaction, which can include death.

If you assume improved hygiene kept the rate of measles infection constant from 1920 at around 500,000 cases a year and the death rate dropped to 1/1000, that's still 5,000 people that would be dying annually from the measles in the US if there were no vaccine at all.

Infectious diseases are fucking terrifying. I'm fortunate enough to only know that from hypothetical math.
posted by Decimask at 10:01 PM on March 12, 2010 [3 favorites]


You know, all of this could be fixed by a simple law. If you don't vaccinate your kids, and they get a vaccine-preventable disease, and transfer it to someone who can't be vaccinated, hasn't been vaccinated, or simply gets it anyway, you should be civilly liable for any damages that occur.

Proving the path of infection would be damned near impossible. Anyway, let's not give the ambulance chasers even more ways of making a fortune, eh?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:04 PM on March 12, 2010


My oldest brother had polio in the early 1950's. The hospital took his favorite teddy bear and burned it along with his other toys so that the disease wouldn't spread. For years after he got out of the hospital, my late father spent every day exercising with him to strengthen his muscles.

I sympathize with the families who are dealing with autism but I don't understand why some of them would want to bring back polio, whooping cough or any other disease that is preventable with vaccination.
posted by jabo at 10:13 PM on March 12, 2010 [2 favorites]


That 400,000-800,000 figure has to be taken in context of the population size.

Thanks for pointing this out. I realized it after I posted that comment. The CDC says that in the decade before the vaccine (which was licensed in 1971), an estimated 3-4 million people were infected each year. So, it looks like I misread the numbers and greatly underestimated the number of Measles cases we'd be faced with if there were no vaccine. Sorry for the error.

Everyone got the measles. Every kid I knew got it. In fact if you didn't get it your parents went out of their way to make sure you did get it because there was no vaccine and it was much worse for adults to get it than for kids.

People were doing this in my generation with Chicken Pox. Now, there's a vaccine, and I am making damn sure that my kid gets it. I'm even going to get the vaccine for myself before I have another child, because Chicken Pox is especially dangerous for pregnant women.
posted by lexicakes at 10:16 PM on March 12, 2010


that's 5-10 people having a severe reaction, which can include death.

Do you have a source for this? I don't think the MMR vaccine (or any vaccine that I'm aware of) has been linked to any deaths.
posted by lexicakes at 10:23 PM on March 12, 2010


> Do you have a source for this? I don't think the MMR vaccine (or any vaccine that I'm aware of) has been linked to any deaths

Well, that's both funny and embarassing. The 1/1,000,000 is me misrepresenting your earlier comment, Lexicakes, through misremembering it. Encephalopathy/encephalitis != death.
posted by Decimask at 10:32 PM on March 12, 2010


If you assume improved hygiene kept the rate of measles infection constant from 1920 at around 500,000 cases a year and the death rate dropped to 1/1000, that's still 5,000 people that would be dying annually from the measles in the US if there were no vaccine at all.-- Decimask

Actually I'm surprised that it would be that low. About 36,000 people die of the flu every year in the US. Although, now that I think about it, you only get measles once, but you can catch the flu several times a year, every year of your life, so maybe it makes sense.

(And of course the measles, unlike the flu, can cause the death of an unborn child if a pregnant woman catches it).
posted by eye of newt at 10:33 PM on March 12, 2010


10 million hypothetical doses with a 1 per 1 million worst-case scenario means 5-10 incidences. Probably 5, because presumably people would have the severe reaction after the first dose.
posted by Decimask at 10:34 PM on March 12, 2010


> Actually I'm surprised that it would be that low.

IIRC, the elderly are the most likely to die from the flu. They also would have caught and survived the measels to get that old, which would confer presumably immunity to future exposures. Don't know for how long, though.

I looked for old data (1900, actually) because I had no idea when the vaccine had been introduced. I assumed that improvements in the standard of living (less crowding) and hygiene (and medicine) would mean a reduction in both deaths and infections. From lexicake's second(?) link to the CDC I was an order of magnitude high on deaths (5,000 vs. 400-500 actual), and roughly and order of magnitude low on infections (500,000 vs. 3-4 million actual).

In my defense, I did say my numbers were of colorectal origin. :D
posted by Decimask at 10:47 PM on March 12, 2010


I sympathize with the families who are dealing with autism but I don't understand why some of them would want to bring back polio, whooping cough or any other disease that is preventable with vaccination.

The main target of their wrath has been MMR, measles-mumps-rubella.

There's a different vaccine that covers tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), diphtheria, and polio. I don't think there's as much resistance to that one given that those diseases are a lot more serious.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:33 PM on March 12, 2010


warbaby: "Once again, humans demonstrate the impossibility of rationally evaluating risks.

*lights another cigarette*
"

From Wired's excellent report on the anti-vax movement (discussed previously):
Curt Linderman Sr., the host of “Linderman Live!” on AutismOne Radio and the editor of a blog called the Autism File, recently wrote online that it would “be nice” if [rotavirus vaccine co-inventor] Offit “was dead.”

I’d met Linderman at Autism One. He’d given his card to me as we stood outside the Westin O’Hare talking about his autistic son. “We live in a very toxic world,” he’d told me, puffing on a cigarette.

It was hard to argue with that.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:22 AM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


(I never did get the mumps--and I'm unvaccinated--a scary thought. They wouldn't vaccinate me as an adult).

I must have ended up with yours by mistake (I got it twice).

And measles, and chicken pox. Par for the course. Never got rubella, as far as I recall. Vaccinated against polio, diphtheria, pertussis, tuberculosis, tetanus. Tonsils are gone. Still got appendix.

Australia, born 1962.
posted by flabdablet at 1:08 AM on March 13, 2010


Cui bono?
posted by telstar at 1:41 AM on March 13, 2010


You know, all of this could be fixed by a simple law.

I have no problem with such a law.

So long as the same applies to "big Pharma" also. If their products harm, they get the same treatment.

You gonna work hard to get the 1986 law that prevents citizens from suing Big Pharma over vaccines?

Because the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled against Robalee and Russell Bruesewitz [the plaintiffs], saying a 1986 federal law bars their claims. According to the lawsuit, Hannah Bruesewitz was a healthy infant until she received the vaccine in April 1992. Within hours of getting the DPT shot, the third in a series of five, the baby suffered a series of debilitating seizures. Now a teenager, Hannah suffers from residual seizure disorder, the suit says.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:56 AM on March 13, 2010


Because this is an unrealistic standard.

So your position is that it is unrealistic to not willingly add a known heavy metal toxin?

Huh.

Do you use Lead to sweeten your drinks? There are other ways to sweeten ones drink - but why not use Lead, because it works. And it was good enough for the Romans and the science of the Romans showed it was OK to do that.
posted by rough ashlar at 4:04 AM on March 13, 2010


i am just waiting for the Genome Project and the University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project to prove that blanket statements like this one are bad science

Thank you! If they do so, please let us know. Until then, every single bit of evidence indicates that vaccines do not cause autism. I am glad you agree. :)
posted by Optimus Chyme at 4:09 AM on March 13, 2010


You gonna work hard to get the 1986 law that prevents citizens from suing Big Pharma over vaccines?

They don't have to sue pharm companies: anyone harmed by vaccines has the right to a payout from the government. The government is assuming the liability here, because vaccines are a universal requirement.
posted by deanc at 4:38 AM on March 13, 2010


it is unrealistic to not willingly add a known heavy metal toxin?

Thimerosal, which is not a toxin, seemed to work well enough for what it was needed for, and did not cause any harm. When public anxiety about the issue became a factor, it was no longer used in vaccines, and isn't today. There appears to have been no change in public health, and certainly no change in austism rates.

Anti-vaxxers have moved on from their focus on thimerosal causing autism and now more generally claim that vaccines are bad for the body or toxic in and of themselves.
posted by deanc at 4:41 AM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thimerosal, which is not a toxin,

Why a simple name change makes all the difference! Lets not call Mercury Mercury - lets call it Thimerosal! There - the Mercury problem is solved because we don't call Mercury Mercury.

Can I get your signature in my copy of Toxic Sludge is Good for You?
posted by rough ashlar at 5:19 AM on March 13, 2010


Why a simple name change makes all the difference! Lets not call Mercury Mercury - lets call it Thimerosal! There - the Mercury problem is solved because we don't call Mercury Mercury.

As it has been pointed (repeatedly!) in replies to your comments that not every compound of every element has the same properties. At this point I really feel that I have to call you out as being a troll.
posted by MrLint at 6:23 AM on March 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why a simple name change makes all the difference! Lets not call Mercury Mercury - lets call it Thimerosal! There - the Mercury problem is solved because we don't call Mercury Mercury.

You are really displaying your ignorance of basic Chemistry here. The Mercury issue has already been addressed in this thread, but just in case you missed it, I'll repeat a few of the important points. First of all, Ethyl Mercury, which is what is in Thimerosal, does not build up in the body the way that Methyl Mercury does. In the amounts that it was used, it was not shown to be toxic by any studies. You are fighting against ALL the legitimate scientific research that has been done on this topic. And, as it's already been pointed out to you repeatedly, Thimerosal was phased out in 1999 in the US. The only vaccines that still have it are certain doses of flu vaccine, and they don't give those to children under age 2.

And yes, my position is that putting Thimerosal in vaccines as a preservative was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and still is. See, here in the developed world, we have the luxury of complaining about every little "toxin" that we think is causing Autism (or whatever), while in the rest of the world there are still a half million people dying of Measles every year. If we hope to get enough vaccine to those people to make a difference, the only practical way to do it is by using multi-dose vaccines. And the bacterial infections that can result from contaminated vaccines are far worse than any reaction anyone has ever had to Thimerosal.
posted by lexicakes at 6:28 AM on March 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


This all sounds so familiar... oh, right, we did this last year with the same players making the same arguments.

Let me just go ahead and phone in my comments [1, 2, 3] on aluminum hydroxide from that thread for when that gets brought up in a couple more hours.
posted by dw at 8:43 AM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Mercury is not ethyl mercury.

Sodium is an incredibly toxic and volatile metal that explodes on contact with water. Chlorine is a poison so severe that its use in wartime has been banned by the Geneva Convention. Sodium Chloride is table salt, which is consumed by the pound.

Chemistry MATTERS.
posted by KathrynT at 9:36 AM on March 13, 2010 [13 favorites]


"Why a simple name change makes all the difference! Lets not call Mercury Mercury - lets call it Thimerosal! There - the Mercury problem is solved because we don't call Mercury Mercury."

You put this (yt) and this on your food in the form of this.

mercury != thimerosal
posted by fatfrank at 9:56 AM on March 13, 2010


or what KathrynT said...
posted by fatfrank at 9:57 AM on March 13, 2010


A lot of people still call it the Court of Claims - it's a common mistake.

Everybody does. Hence, its just short hand. A friend has defended tons of those cases for the government. Now defends Rumsfeld and Yoo.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:05 AM on March 13, 2010


So what are the current (best?) theories on the causes of autism?
posted by IndigoJones at 10:13 AM on March 13, 2010


Lets not call Mercury Mercury - lets call it Thimerosal!

Let's not call Sodium (an element that burns/explodes in contact with water, and that causes all kinds of health problems) Sodium - let's call it Sodium Chloride (which provides the element that's necessary for countless basic function, including making your neurons work.) Funnily enough, in direct analogy to your statement, elemental sodium is not the same chemical as sodium chloride, and while I suggest that you avoid the former, the latter can be both good (as something that provides a necessary element in a safe form) and bad (as something that can cause dehydration and exacerbate hypertension.)

Can I get your signature in my copy of Toxic Sludge is Good for You?

I'll sign it if you sign up for some basic chemistry classes and come back with proof that you actually paid enough attention to do well in them. Science! You should learn something about it before you try to make this stupid argument again! God, I should know better than to try to deal with the bad science in these threads, but the bad science and illogic hurts me. Deeply. Personally. People are ignorant and wrong on the internet!
posted by ubersturm at 10:43 AM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Or, on preview, what dw and everyone else says.
posted by ubersturm at 10:47 AM on March 13, 2010


thanks to all the smug smart people who couldnt resist sticking it to the allegedly anti-vaxer idiot.

as i said again: these cases have nothing to do with the science of vaccinations and everything to do with with regulatory practices.

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis network is an example of the kind of organization that regularly demands from the FDA better R&D regulations of not just food but medicines and vaccines. they're not mad tinfoil hatters but people who have done real good consumer advocacy work.

if i missed anybody actually address post-approval R&D regulations, i apologize for not catching your comments; yet in 90+ i scanned, i did not see one person address this issue.

and, FWIW, my family MD is the head of a pediatric dpt in one of the hospitals here in NYC who happens to also be an expert homeopath and is consulted by the city on public health policy and legislation all the time. and yes, he is totally "pro-vaccines".

there doesnt have to be an either/or between different medical sciences. and, by the way, allopathy is a term i have only heard MDs use; to describe the differences between Chinese & European medical practices, for example. you choose to deem the term as derogatory.

am neither against vacciness nor science. am against a lot of the bad regulatory practices that come out of the FDA that in turn translate into bad public health policy.
posted by liza at 12:52 PM on March 13, 2010


"Why a simple name change makes all the difference! Lets not call Mercury Mercury - lets call it Thimerosal! There - the Mercury problem is solved because we don't call Mercury Mercury.

"Can I get your signature in my copy of Toxic Sludge is Good for You?"


What a ridiculous statement. Do you go around calling table salt "Sodium and Clorine with a dash of Iodine"? Do you call water "Two parts hydrogen plus a part of Oxygen"? I mean bully for you if you do but I'd hate to be behind you in line at Starbucks when you order a double latte or a service station when you need gas.
posted by Mitheral at 1:08 PM on March 13, 2010


expert homeopath. oh, dear.
posted by exlotuseater at 1:43 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


thanks to all the smug smart people who couldnt resist sticking it to the allegedly anti-vaxer idiot.



Shrug, doesn't it suck having the things you say analyzed?
posted by MrLint at 1:44 PM on March 13, 2010


"by the way, allopathy is a term i have only heard MDs use; to describe the differences between Chinese & European medical practices, for example. you choose to deem the term as derogatory."
Well, I've only heard it used in a derogatory way by homeopaths. Which shows the value of anecdote I suppose.
posted by edd at 1:48 PM on March 13, 2010


liza: I don't quite see how the "vaccines cause Autism" idea has anything to do with regulatory practices or research. I don't think that pharmaceutical companies are noble and never do anything wrong. No one here thinks that. We all want our medicines regulated to make sure they are as safe s possible. But that isn't the issue here. The issue is that vaccines do not cause Autism. There are no legitimate studies finding that vaccines, or any components of vaccines, cause Autism. There is no correlation between vaccine rates and rates of Autism diagnoses. Studies have been done, and they all point to the same conclusion: vaccines do not cause Autism.

By the way, allopathy is a derogatory term for science-based medicine, regardless of who uses it. These MDs you know wouldn't happen to be homeopaths as well, would they?
posted by lexicakes at 1:59 PM on March 13, 2010


Every time I see "allopath" my mental image is of a medium-large theropod in a lab coat, fumbling with a stethoscope. Good thing there's no tyrannopathic medicine. Yet.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:01 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


So what are the current (best?) theories on the causes of autism?

It seems to be a combination of genetics and environment. Parental age as a risk is a growing line of thinking. Mercury is still being hypothesized as a possible cause of the rise in autism, with the non-vaccine research centering around coal-fired power plants, but those studies are a bit vague.

The increase in the number of autism cases has been pretty consistent over the last 20-30 years. Even after thimerosal was dropped from vaccines cases kept rising. Even in countries where the MMR hasn't been given for a period of time there was no letup in autism cases during that period. We know there's a higher rate of autism in areas with high household income and high levels of education, but it's hard to say what that even proves.

So much of the causal research is grasping at straws right now -- we know that a combination of factors brings about ASD, but we're a long way from having even a short list of possible causes. Until there's a gene isolated or some random pollutant is undeniably linked to causing it, we're going to be in witch-burning mode. And thus why the anti-vaccine line of thinking presses on even as the original theories are being dismissed.
posted by dw at 3:26 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thank you, dw, much obliged.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:20 PM on March 13, 2010


An older child psychologist acquaintance who regularly tests and works with developmentally-disabled children has told me that it's commonly accepted among her colleagues that the "rise" in autism is purely reclassification away from more generic labels like "mentally retarded." (When not in the presence of something obviously identifiable, like Down Syndrome.)

Her theory for the shift: "autism" seems like something that might be cured. Nobody thinks there's a cure for mental retardation.

(I think the safe bet is on rising average maternal age, which would explain the correlation with high income/education levels.)
posted by nev at 4:34 PM on March 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


For those who might share Liza's (liza's?) concern about the adequacy of postlicensure safety surveillance of vaccines, here is a short review of the topic from CDC. Many, many specific studies can be found if one wanted to spend a day browsing PubMed. Vaccines are, imo, much more closely monitored than therapeutic drugs, and are subject to more stringent safety standards.
posted by lakeroon at 5:06 PM on March 13, 2010


nev, I have thought the same thing myself -- I would be interested to see if the rise in autism spectrum diagnosis has resulted in a proportional "drop" in MR/DD numbers.
posted by ltracey at 6:32 PM on March 13, 2010


An older child psychologist acquaintance who regularly tests and works with developmentally-disabled children has told me that it's commonly accepted among her colleagues that the "rise" in autism is purely reclassification away from more generic labels like "mentally retarded."

Yeah, the decline of diagnoses of mental retardation likely has a lot to do with the rise in Autism diagnoses. This also helps explain why the rates of Autism in adults are the same as in children.
posted by lexicakes at 6:33 PM on March 13, 2010


am just waiting for the Genome Project and the University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project to prove that blanket statements like this one are bad science.

Hi, I'm a full-time professional researcher in human genomics. I feel the need to point out that:
  1. Determining whether vaccines cause autism is way out of scope of the Human Genome Project. It is unlikely to have anything to say on either side of this question. To paraphrase Charles Babbage, I am not able rightly to apprehend the kind of confusion of ideas that could provoke such a statement.
  2. There does not appear to be anything called the "University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project."
That is all.
posted by grouse at 6:57 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


my family MD is the head of a pediatric dpt in one of the hospitals here in NYC who happens to also be an expert homeopath

what's his name
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:03 PM on March 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


Forget his name; I just want to see the NYC hospital that is, itself, an expert homeopath.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:39 PM on March 13, 2010


Forget his name; I just want to see the NYC hospital that is, itself, an expert homeopath.

I think it might be this hospital.
posted by lexicakes at 8:13 PM on March 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


An older child psychologist acquaintance who regularly tests and works with developmentally-disabled children has told me that it's commonly accepted among her colleagues that the "rise" in autism is purely reclassification away from more generic labels like "mentally retarded."

On the other end of the spectrum, I suspect that there are also many kids who in the past would have just been called weird or diagnosed with OCD or ADHD who are now getting the Asperger's label. I wonder if this is especially true among wealthy and well-educated parents who may be more likely to seek a diagnosis for a kid who doesn't function well socially.

Please note, I am not saying "these kids are not autistic", I'm saying in the past these kids would not have been diagnosed and in fact it may be wonderful for them to get early intervention, which has been shown to be the actual best treatment for the autistic spectrum, and to be understood as actually neurologically different and not weird or oppositional or difficult.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:30 AM on March 14, 2010


There does not appear to be anything called the "University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project."

Yep I was unable to find it also. And instead of answering my question early in the thread, liza decided to go on another perceived persecution rant.
posted by MrLint at 11:32 AM on March 14, 2010


ownage. Sory dumb ppl.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:52 PM on March 14, 2010


There does not appear to be anything called the "University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project."

Just thought I'd mentioned liza linked to what she was talking about last year, which isn't called the "University of Texas Allergen Mapping Project" but the Structural Database of Allergenic Proteins, run out of the UT Medical Branch in Galveston.

It's not a Genome Project; as it describes itself, SDAP "is a Web server that integrates a database of allergenic proteins with various bioinformatics tools for performing structural studies related to allergens and characterization of their epitopes."
posted by dw at 3:02 PM on March 14, 2010


They often have a looser understanding of science than they would need to understand the studies behind all of this. My mom (I have a high functioning autistic sister) was one of them for a long time, but she gave up when she saw that autism wasn't going down after the mercury was removed from the vaccines.

I get the concern of parents, I just don't get the selective rejection of science that underlies this nonsense. Do they question gravity? How about electricity? The same goes for global warming denialist freaks and anti-Darwin idiots.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:41 PM on March 14, 2010


You should hear how many mothers I run into say "well I didn't give our child the Hep B shot. They're not going to be drug users."

Um...

1. can you say that with 100% confidence? What if your child is a needle sharer and then turns their life around with rehab? Why give them that risk.

2. totally educated people are saying this not realizing that Hep B is a risk during surgery, transfusions, and even bites. I didn't expect our son having surgery at 3 months, but he did and you know, things happen in a hospital. I just heard the woman behind me at work say her child was bitten by another and blood was drawn.

But on the flip side, anything government supported or ran isn't going to change the mind of the extreme. The government, pharma, doctors, scientists---to them, they are the cause of all of this so why trust them?

I don't know, but for me, seeing my uncle tell stories of having polio is enough for me to vaccinate our child. If enough people don't vaccinate, measles, polio, etc. will come back.
posted by stormpooper at 6:48 AM on March 15, 2010


You should hear how many mothers I run into say "well I didn't give our child the Hep B shot. They're not going to be drug users."

I hear this one a lot too, and it always makes me think, "Have you forgotten what it's like to be a kid?" I came into contact with other kids' blood all the time. When I was 8, I bumped my chin on the edge of the local pool, cut my mouth open, and bled all over the place. In a crowded public swimming pool. There was no way for the life guards to know whether I had Hepatitis, and I probably wouldn't have even known if I did. Considering that children who are exposed to Hep B are at a greater risk of chronic infection than adults, and they can be asymptomatic for years, it makes perfect sense to immunize them as soon as possible.

It's sad that the vaccine denialists are going after the Hep B vaccine now. Presumably, this is because it's given at birth, so there's no way to say that a child had Autism before receiving it, unless you could somehow detect Autism in the womb.
posted by lexicakes at 1:29 PM on March 15, 2010


What a ridiculous statement.

Gosh. So vaccine makers add Mercury, a known heavy metal toxin and that is OK by you?
posted by rough ashlar at 1:13 PM on March 30, 2010


it took you two weeks to come up with the dumbest possible comment
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:17 PM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]


i have this crazy stuff that's made of a poison gas and a flammable metal and I feed it to people all over the place.
posted by GuyZero at 1:46 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


I feel like I should take GuyZero's comment with a grain of salt.
posted by grouse at 1:50 PM on March 30, 2010


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