Skepdude

From the creator of Video Skepdude

Autism hearings continue.

On Monday, 5/12/08, the United States Court of Federal Claims began another hearing to decide whether vaccines cause autism.

The hearing is the second in a series of three in which the court is considering whether the government should pay millions of dollars to the parents of some 4,800 autistic children. In this hearing, parents are claiming that thimerosal, a preservative that contains mercury, damaged their children’s brains. Thimerosal was removed from all routinely administered childhood vaccines by 2001.

Every major study and scientific organization to examine the issue has found no link between vaccination and autism, but the parents and their advocates have persisted.3

Now, before I spell out my thought let me disclose that I am not a physician. I am not a doctor, don’t work for a pharmaceutical company. In short, I have no bias either way in this matter (except for a bias towards reason and reality.) On the other hand I am not qualified to have an opinion on the science of vaccines and thimerosal. As such my opinion is just that…my opinion based on what has been reported over the last few months.

As a new parent myself, I feel for the parents of children afflicted with any disease, not just autism. It is heartbreaking to see your child suffer and be unable to help, I know that. You’d cut off your own limbs if that would help, period. As such this entry is not to be construed as a tirade against the parents, but as a tirade against the people taking advantage of these parent’s pain, in order to fill up their own pockets with money, money, money. Because that’s what this is about isn’t it? Money!

There is a consensus in the scientific community that vaccines do not cause autism. Study after study has come out showing no connection whatsoever between them. There is no debate, no disagreement on the scientific community about this. In fact, thimerosal, was removed from almost all vaccines since 2001. Autism rates have not been declining since then.

So what this charade about parents taking their claims to court? Is a court qualified to have an opinion on medical issues? Because this is what this is isn’t it? Some people believe against all evidence that what the doctors say is wrong. They believe the medical community is wrong, or treacherous. So they turn to a judge. But how is a judge supposed to make a decision? Isn’t the judge going to have to rely on the same medical community these parents distrust? Where is the court going to get the scientific evidence if not from the scientific community itself? Or do they expect the judge to agree on them based on their anecdotal evidence and completely ignore all the scientific studies on the subject? I don’t really know what their hopes are.

What is the point of this whole thing anyway? They claim thimerosal caused their kid’s autism. Even if we grant that, you’d have to prove at the least recklessness on the part of the government or vaccine makers in order to get a reward. Just because one component in a drug/vaccine turns out to have undesired effects on some people, does that give these people the right to demand compensation? You can’t just go in there, claim that thimerosal from the vaccines made my kid sick and walk out with money. It doesn’t work that way. It can’t work that way. That is preposterous. Every drug has side effects, some even result in death, some of these side effects remain unknown until much later. We can’t have all the people that take such drugs, and experience these previously unknown side effects, demand compensation. Widespread use show all the possible effects, some of which would be impossible to detect in testing done before the drug went to the market. Are this minority of people supposed to get compensation as well? I find that logic disturbing.

All they have to support their case is anecdotal evidence. Some kid was developing nicely. Then they got some shots. A short time after that they started exhibiting sings of autism. The parent concluded that because the autism was noticed after the shots were taken, then the shots caused the autism. This is a classical post hoc fallacy. B happened after A, therefore B was caused by A. But such illogic don’t work.

How many other vaccines did this kid get before he was diagnosed with autism? As a new parent I know that vaccines start very early in a child’s life. The first vaccines are given in the hospital right after birth, or a few days after that. Another set is given by 2 months. The first flu shot is usually given at 6 months. They continue at a few month’s intervals during at least the first few years. So if vaccines cause autism, why didn’t they cause it earlier?

What else happened right after the vaccines? Maybe the kid spoke its first word after a vaccine. Are we going to attribute that to the vaccine? Maybe he started walking. Are we going to attribute that to the vaccine? Of curse not. Just because something happens after something else (temporally) it does not imply that the former caused the latter. So why do these people pick and choose where to apply their illogic. Why just vaccines and autism?

I think I may know why. People want answers. They don’t like to hear “I don’t know”. That is why religion is so important to so many people. It provides (incorrect) answers with certainty. All of a sudden you know. And that is why people like the “vaccines cause autism” line of reasoning. Something which was not understandable all of a sudden is. We have a bad guy, a villain. We have someone to fight. That feeling of hopelessness is eased. We feel like we’re doing something.

I don’t have anything against the parents (although I am sure there must be a few bad apples in there who are in this just for the money!). It must be horrible to have that feeling of hopelessness. Wouldn’t you fight with everything you’ve got, against everyone in the whole world for your kid? Of course you would. But it is the Oprahs of this world, who’d do anything for ratings that I despise. It is the lawyers who see an opportunity to make a killing that I despise. It is the people who propagate this misinformation to further their own financial interests that I despise. Yes, those people I despise profoundly. The parents I feel bad for and I hope that they can find some closure and go back to the important things, taking care of their kids. My heart goes out to them, but that does not mean they are any less wrong. Misguided, good intentioned, but wrong nevertheless.

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May 13, 2008 - Posted by | Critical Thinking, Logic, Pseudo-science, Science, Thinking Out Loud | , , , , ,

5 Comments »

  1. Hello there. I wanted to make a few points.

    In fact it DOES work that way – the vaccine court is set up to be exactly what you say it’s not – a compensation for people who have side effects from vaccines. It’s different than other court/legal situations. It was set up that way so that the vaccine makers wouldn’t go bankrupt from claims that WERE in fact valid (and they knew there would be some). It’s completely different than suing for problems with other drugs.

    Also, while thimerosal was taken out in 2001, there are STILL doctors who have thimerosal containing vaccines on their shelves. Just FYI. And additionally, there is a lot of discussion about the MMR vaccine as well, which is not thimerosal containing, but can be problematic nonetheless for children whose immune systems can’t handle the assault of 3 live viruses. And the flu shot still contains thimerosal as well. I think most of us just want ALL the junk taken out of the vaccines to make them safer, and the schedule spread out to a more reasonable one.

    It’s not exactly case closed on vaccines not being related. There’s a lot of well-respected folk out there who believe there’s a genetic predisposition that can be triggered by any number of things that cause the brain to go haywire. In my son’s case, his docs (yes, his regular, western medicine docs) feel the vaccines were contributing, but not causal, factors.

    And finally, about those bad apple parents out there. I’m pretty sure that while a lot of us would like compensation for what autism has cost us financially, there is no way to make up for the struggles and challenges, and for some, complete heartbreak associated with it. Sure, there’s bad apples everywhere, but I really doubt any of those parents are in it for the money. If you ever have a child with autism, you’ll likely feel terrible you ever said that.

    Thank you for your time.

    Comment by asdmommy | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  2. Dear, asdmommy

    Thanks for your comment. I really appreciate it. Please let me analyze them in order of importance.

    1-My heart goes out to you and all other parents whose kids are suffering from any disease not only autism. As I said I am a new parent myself and I understand, or at least I try to imagine, what it must feel like.

    2-I tried to make it clear on my entry that I was not going after the parents. I made it clear that it is the people who try to profit from the parent’s pain which I am after. That said, I think I am safe in thinking that among the 9,600 parents involved there must be a few bad apples which are in it for the money. Let’s face it parents have been known to do much worse things to their children. There are lots of people whose sense of morality is too low, even when their sick kids are involved. I think my statement was not out of line.

    3-As far as the court is concerned, you are correct in asserting that :”It was set up that way so that the vaccine makers wouldn’t go bankrupt from claims that WERE in fact valid (and they knew there would be some). It’s completely different than suing for problems with other drugs.” Keep in mind that the word VALID is the key word. What determines if the vaccine-autism link is valid? Scientific evidence, not hearsay. That was my whole point. Study after study has concluded there is no causality. So, as far as I can tell from the available info, these claims are not VALID.

    4-“Also, while thimerosal was taken out in 2001, there are STILL doctors who have thimerosal containing vaccines on their shelves. Just FYI.” I don’t argue that. It could very well be true. The fact remains that the majority of doctors don’t. My argument still stands. The autism rates should have gone down.

    5-“There’s a lot of well-respected folk out there who believe there’s a genetic predisposition that can be triggered by any number of things that cause the brain to go haywire.” First, I don’t know who are these well-respected fold you are referring to, so I cannot comment on that. I just hope they are experts and not Oprah type of well-respected folks. As I said, as far as I know, the consensus in the medical field is that there is no causal link. Can you find a doctor, 10 doctors or 100 doctors who disagree? Sure, doctors are as liable to fall for bad reasoning as any of us. What matters is the literature as a whole, not one PhD or MD. Trust me if these doctors above could have made a real scientific case for the vaccines-autism link they would have already in the science community.

    Secondly if there is a genetic predisposition as you claim, than can we really blame the vaccine or the genetic predisposition? Is it then true that there is something wrong with the vaccine? If the parent and doctor were not aware of such predisposition, then how can the vaccine makers be? Say, for arguments sake that allergies to nuts were unknown. All of a sudden kids that eat a snickers bar start having all kinds of allergic reactions. Would you say it is acceptable to sue Snickers, because the kids had a genetic predisposition to be allergic to nuts? I don’t think you would. Isn’t it the same with vaccines?

    Comment by Skepdude | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  3. alright skepdude…..well done post. It’s going on my wall of fame/thought provoking blog posts…..and articles….when I get around to it.

    I’m autistic, and I appreciate your efforts to get the truth out about autism and vaccines……

    The Integral of athenivanidx

    Comment by athenivandx | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  4. Thank you for your reply. I usually don’t engage in these discussions, because people feel the way they feel, but I felt compelled to comment.

    #2) It WAS clear you weren’t going after parents, but I still thought that statement was out of line. Guess we’ll agree to disagree on that one! It’s a LOT of effort to be part of that lawsuit (we decided not to be because we are centering our efforts elsewhere), and I just don’t believe anyone is doing it simply for the money. I know most people would forego any amount of money to have their child healthy. I just thought it was a sad thing to say. I probably would’ve said it myself, however, before my child had autism (and even, for awhile after, until we starting getting to the bottom of his health issues).

    #3) Perhaps not always causality (although I believe in some cases it is the root cause), but links and triggers. Is the child who gets a high, deadly fever from a vaccine any different? Perhaps they just got a high fever the next day and it wasn’t related? But they’re being compensated because the vaccine is recognized as being the issue. Ultimately we might find out that a child that gets a deadly fever from a vaccine has some underlying issue. Exactly what was found in the recent autism/vaccine case that went in favor of the child with autism.

    4) Personally, I disagree that the autism rates should go down, but that’s because I don’t believe thimerosal is the only trigger. For other kids it may be the aluminum. Or the MMR (my child has live, high levels measles, mumps and rubella in his system that have been traced back to the vaccine he received – pretty scary stuff). That’s my whole point. For each child, the trigger may be different. Some kids have the digestive issues and are helped by dietary changes. Some kids need the heavy metals chelated out of them. Some need b-12 shots. That’s the challenge of autism – there seem to be so many issues, and it seems to be different in every person. The old saying, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism,” seems to be true in medical terms.

    #5 – I take a lot of studies with a grain of salt (even ones that go in the direction I support). Many were backfunded by the pharmaceutical companies, who, in my opinion, are the real gold diggers here who are out for money. There are many well respected docs who are doing studies with contrary results that are showing all kinds of things are triggering autism. Even Dr. Bernadine Healy has come out saying we’re not done with these studies just yet. I would disagree that there is consensus in the science or medical field about ANY of this. Just because the all powerful CDC tells us vaccines are completely safe doesn’t make me believe it (and I’m not even anti-vaccine). I also don’t believe the Department of Agriculture when they tell us our food supply is completely safe. I’ve learned to question authority.

    No, the Snickers/vaccine analogy is not valid. There aren’t a zillion kids eating Snickers and dying. There are a zillion kids with autism. Some people say it’s just a neurological difference (that’s a whole different debate), but for sake of argument, let’s say it’s more than that. There’s a cause. I, for one, don’t hold the vaccines responsible for causing my child’s autism, despite what every medical professional who has seen him feels is a contributing link (see below). I do, however, think there is something wrong with vaccines. We absolutely can blame the vaccine makers if they don’t get rid of most of the junk that will, in my opinion, be shown to be a link in many cases. Vaccines CAN be safe, the crap CAN be taken out of them, and they can be fixed so that less people will have side effects, no matter their genetic predisposition. And I for one, wonder why you aren’t demanding that yourself as a new parent.

    My child is perfect, and I don’t want to “cure” him of his autism. I just want him to be healthy, which his body is not. Athenivandx, I know you’ll think I am putting autism in an all negative light, so lest you think I am, I want to say that autism has made my son a wonderful, interesting, delightful little boy. Lots of challenges, sure, but he’s a happy kid. But he’s not healthy. His body is sick. He doesn’t gain weight, his immune system is not good, he is unable to walk when he gets a cold. Do I think vaccines caused all that? NO. But I do think they played a part, and I wish I had known more before giving him the flu shot his first two years because his doctor told us to. I wish I had split the MMR into 3 shots instead of giving him all of them at once. I think his health would be far better today had we done all that. Instead we’re even more steps behind in making him healthy.

    Okay, I’m done commenting. I just can’t do this – it’s too tiring because regardless of what you say or I say, we’re both going to think what we think. I don’t think vaccines cause autism in every case. I think it causes autism in some cases, and contributes in others. If we ever get to the point that we understand autism more, I’m quite sure we’ll realize there’s much more going on than anyone knows, and to rule out something this important at this point is a travesty.

    Have a nice day.

    Comment by asdmommy | May 13, 2008 | Reply

  5. Dear asdmommy,

    Thanks again for you comments, they are most welcome. I will agree to disagree with you on these issues. I only want to answer to one direct question you asked, which was “And I for one, wonder why you aren’t demanding that yourself as a new parent.”

    Obviously, if vaccines can be made SAFER I am all for that. I believe vaccines are SAFE, to the extent that the vast majority of kids who are vaccinated do not report ill effects. But as with everything else, they are not perfect. Nothing in life is. Not the baby food we buy in the stores. How do we know there isn’t any chemical in the baby foods that all kids eat the time? How do we know that’s not to be blamed for this stuff? We don’t. That is precisely my point. We don’t know that vaccines and autism are causally related. Kids are getting vaccinated from birth. Why do they develop autism, or more precisely are diagnosed with autism only later in life? How can we say for sure that it was in fact the vaccines that caused it? WE CAN’T. That is why I cannot jump on the blaming bandwagon.

    I think you’re being too harsh on yourself. Some things are out of our control. There’s no point blaming ourself and thinking what could have been different if we had done something differently.

    That is why I despise the folks who try to take advantage of parent’s pain, because they make people feel guilty, as if it is the parent’s fault, when it isn’t.

    Trust me, the moment there is some credible evidence that there is something wrong with vaccines, I will be the first to question my baby’s doctor about it. But I can’t stop her vaccinations because of such unfounded fears/beliefs. The risk is far greater if my baby does not get vaccinated.

    But by all means, if there is junk in there as you claim, we must take it out. They have been studying such ideas, and they should continue doing it. But at some point you must stop searching for something that may not exist. We can’t just will things into existence. What will happen when all the junk has been cleaned out, millions and millions have been spent in this, and autism rates keep going up or stay steady? What then?

    I hope my ramblings are a little clear.

    Comment by Skepdude | May 13, 2008 | Reply


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