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Science: 1, Antivaxers: 0 PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

Hooray! Newsweek reports that Alison Singer, executive vice president of communications and awareness at Autism Speaks, has determined that the question of whether or not there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism has been answered. And that answer is no. Faced with disagreement from others in the organization, Ms. Singer chose to step down from her post. There are a few things to discuss here. Congratulations to Ms. Singer for looking at the evidence and coming to a conclusion. For those unware of the controversy, many parents of children with autism believe that childhood vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccine, is responsible for their child's condition. The theory is that mercury in the preservative Thimerasol, which used to be used in vaccines, caused brain damage in young children. Today, vaccines contain very little if any of this perservative, but there was never much evidence to implicate it anyway. It's possible that since autism is first noticeable at about the same time kids receive their vaccines, that parents assumed a causal link out of the correlation.

Many studies have been done to confirm this causality, but the overwhelming evidence is that vaccines are unrelated to autism.

So enter Ms. Singer, who has a child with autism. She joins a fledgling organization determined to do some good against this condition. She examines the evidence, and comes to the conclusion that autism research needs to move in a new direction. Her reward? She has to step down, because others in the organization want more money spent on research into vaccines and their relationship to autism. The anti-vaccination movement won't be swayed by facts or analysis. They're convinced vaccines are the cause, and won't consider any evidence to the contrary.

Parents concerned about autism refuse to vaccinate their kids, which puts them at risk for diseases that were once commonplace, but are now rarely seen.

Ms. Singer is doing the right thing. She is trying to devote scant resources to where they can do the most good. It's a shame that the community around her can't see where she's coming from, and it's a bigger shame that they're losing such an advocate. I hope Ms. Singer will continue the fight, and I have no doubt that she will.

 

 

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More details and links on MMR/autism
written by colin_young, January 19, 2009
Ben Goldacre has covered this issue quite well: http://www.badscience.net/category/mmr/

Unfortunately I can't find any links/references at the moment, but these diseases that are "now rarely seen" are starting to reappear with more frequency.
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written by AMFCook, January 19, 2009
It's unfortunate that Ms. Singer had to leave her post. She should have remained and put up a strong fight to support the evidence that childhood vaccines are not the cause of Autism. Until the scientific and medical communities can agree to the one and only cause of Autism can they work and trying to come up with a treatment that actually works. There are too many flim flam, rinky dink "cures" that are doing nothing but draining the finances of people whose loved one suffers from this disorder.

One that sticks out in my mind the most is a woman, who was featured on NBC's Dateline, as having the ultimate cure for Autism. She charged the parents of autistic children hundreds of dollars to perform, "hug therapy" which will cure their child's autism. Most likely the children featured in this story were either, 1. Misdiagnosed as being autistic, which, back when this story was featured on Date Line 10 years ago, was a common occurance because there were many Doctors not trained in making a proper diagnosis of Autism; or, 2. the child was actually ADD or ADHD and not autistic.

Hopefully Ms. Singer will not give up her fight to get the science and medical communities to look at the evidence that MMR has anything to do with the cause of Autism, and get them to re-evaluate any test studies and research into Autism and find the root cause.
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When confronted with a brick wall, sometimes it's best to just go around.
written by cwniles, January 19, 2009
Sometimes avoiding confrontation is the best course of action. The unyielding brick wall in this scenario is Autism Speaks and Ms. Singer, rather than try and "bring down the wall" just neatly circumvented it. As Ms. Singer said in the interview "I plan to stay in autism advocacy. I plan to take all the energy and passion that I committed to Autism Speaks and apply it elsewhere in the autism advocacy community. I'm certainly not going to be leaving. If anything, I hope to be more vocal."
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written by ConTester, January 19, 2009
Isn’t a fondness or fascination with repetitive motions, particularly circular ones, an indication of autism, perhaps even a symptom? If so, the answer to why Alison Singer’s detractors do what they do in defiance of the scientific evidence may actually be much closer to hand than one might think…
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written by Willy K, January 19, 2009
Maybe they should get Jenny McCarthy to head Autism Speaks. smilies/cry.gif

A certain percentage of the population will believe anything an attractive woman says, no matter how incredibly inane. Sarah Palin could join the board of directors, she's an expert at misdirecting blame! smilies/tongue.gif
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the great mercury scare
written by MadScientist, January 19, 2009
I wonder if part of the issue is the hysteria surrounding mercury and its effects. The soluble mercury salts are toxic and this has been known for over 200 years; also over the past 200 years some non-soluble mercury salts (calomel) were used as 'expurgatives'. Organo-mercury compounds such as methyl mercury are so toxic they're really amazing and the true stories about fatalities in chemistry labs border on the incredible. I have no idea if swallowing calomel had any of the prophylactic powers it had been claimed to have; I'm not aware of anyone using it for medical purposes in my lifetime. We also had elemental mercury in our common thermometers and if there were a physician in the house there was probably a mercury sphygmomanometer.

I always enjoyed those rare occasions when a thermometer was dropped because I could crawl on the floor looking for those little blobs of mercury and touching them with a polished penny - the droplets would wet the surface of the penny and eventually form an amalgam. The boring method for cleaning up is to dump a load of powdered sulfur on it and leave it for about a day; the mercury is converted to cinnabar, which is the common mercury ore.

At some stage people just started going crazy about 'mercury'. Anything with the word 'mercury' in it sends people running like they've just seen the devil. You can drink a cup of elemental mercury and it will not kill you nor cause brain damage etc and like calomel, some people drank the stuff in the past. You can drink calomel as you please and it will do no harm. Yet, thanks to the popular hysteria, people are all too willing to have amalgam dental fillings removed because they heard that the mercury in the fillings is coming out and damaging their brain or causing tiredness and what-not. So the mere mention of mercury in vaccines would have people screaming that they're being poisoned by a pharmaceutical conspiracy.

I'll just sit back now and wait for all the hate mail telling me how deadly anything with the word 'mercury' is.
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written by Cuddy Joe, January 19, 2009
I had posted earlier and offered some links to great coverage of the anti-vaccine hysteria, but it got sidetracked for admin approval, probably because it included three links and looked like spam. I repost one anyway and hope it doesn't get lost as well:

Dr. Steve Novella (prez of NESS, New England Skeptical Society) has a great blog that has covered this extensively. The blog is NeuroLogica:

Skeptical Battlegrounds: Part IV - Anti-Vaccine Hysteria:

http://www.theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=444
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Playing With Mercury
written by GusGus, January 19, 2009

As a kid, not only did I play with mercury, but i had a lot on my fingers when making "silver" pennies. I'm sure I must have ingested some by accident. In the same era, my dentist mixed amalgam in his hand, not in a mechanical mixer. So he was constantly being exposed to it.
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written by brucea, January 19, 2009
GusGus brings back some memories - I remember in high school (70's) students actually rolling mercury around their tounge.

I'm sure the toxicity of mercury depends on form... (i.e., methly mercury).
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written by Bruno, January 19, 2009
Congratulations to Mrs Singer. Unlike those who remain with the organisation, she will actually have a chance of making headway.

@ConTester, not funny. People with autism indeed are likely to pick up repetitive activities as a way of coping with the complicated and confusing sensations coming from anywhere else (especially other people). This has no bearing on how people with autism think. I myself have high functioning autism and I rather like to believe that the upside of the difficulty of mirroring others' emotions is a reduced sensitivity to emotive arguments.

@MadScientist et al. Toying with beads of mercury is one thing. Using mercury to, say extract gold and boiling it off in a shack is another. As with any toxic substance it's a dosage thing. While I agree that there is an overreaction by the safety crowd to various toxic substances, restricting their use has certainly benefited people who would otherwise get chronically exposed through their work. Your dentist may not have dropped dead on the spot but using that to prove mercury isn't hazardous is similar to saying your 90 year old & happily smoking granny proves cigarettes aren't unhealthy.

That said, my favourite hazardous substance is trike. It was suddenly banned because it was classified as a carcinogenic. Indeed: lifelong exposure ups the odds of getting kidney cancer by a factor two. I kid you not.
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written by Willy K, January 19, 2009
written by MadScientist
I'll just sit back now and wait for all the hate mail telling me how deadly anything with the word 'mercury' is.


Oh yeah buddy, I hate you a whole bunch. Mercury is will kill you instantly!
Oh yeah... I'm talking about the planet, not the element. smilies/wink.gif

P.S. When I was a kid there was a neighbor who had a jar of mercury as a toy. He was the craziest person I ever knew, but I think his wild behavior started long before that. He wound up being a heroin addict. smilies/cry.gif
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written by Stevee, January 20, 2009
An english doctor, Andrew Wakefield, gave the original study that sugggested that the MMR was to blame for autism. This man has since been totaly discredited not only was his reasearch inadequate he was seen to have links to autism litigators and his supporters soon withdrew thier names from his paper. His was then "struck off" by the British medical council.

His work was the sole reason that the MMR scandel grew, but it was supported, strongly, in the media. In Britain the media have never retracted and in some quarter perpertrate the myth.

Cases of measles are growing and the fear is its only a matter of time before someone dies due to it.

Kudos big time to Ms Singer and more power to her elbow.

I have never heard the mercury argument before
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The New York Times Really Needs to Wake Up
written by adering, January 20, 2009
Here's why I despair. In today's New York Times, in the Science [sic] section, are two letters to the editor about a recent article about vaccines. The first is pro-vaccination. The second reads thusly (you've got to read it to truly appreciate the contortions involved):

The problem with Dr. Paul Offit’s outlook is that he completely dismisses and ignores the fact that vaccines, like most pharmaceuticals, have serious side effects. He fully reveals his position with his comment about fluoride: “There are still people who believe fluoride is dangerous.” The tube of fluoride-filled Crest that I own has the following warning label: “Keep out of reach of children under 6 years of age. If more than used for brushing is accidentally swallowed, seek medical help or contact a Poison Control Center right away.”

Fluoride, like vaccines and other drugs, can be dangerous. My problem with Dr. Offit is not that he is pro-vaccine; it is that I do not trust him to be intellectually honest when evaluating and communicating the risks associated with vaccines.

Kevin Kuechler
Winchester, Mass.


So, one letter points out that disease incidents rise when vaccinations don't occur. The other letter takes a warning off a toothpaste label (what toothpaste has to do with vaccination is a little beyond me), throws in a pinch of "vaccines are dangerous" (so too, as John D. MacDonald pointed out, are swimming in the ocean and home-canned vegetables), while attaching no numbers to how "dangerous" those vaccines are (and no comparison to other medications and their "danger" rates) and hey presto, now you've got yet another round of "Wow, this really isn't as cut-and-dried as the huge corporate vaccine makers, driving around in their luxury automobiles would have us think!"

This really is disappointing.
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written by Bruno, January 20, 2009
If the NY Times didn't reprint a roughly equal amount of pro and contra letters, it would be accused of being unbalanced. According to PC, objectivity requires equal exposure. Until it is widely understood that equal exposure only amounts to multiple subjectivity, even high quality publications will be forced to keep fanning the flames of controversy by equivocation.

Our national broadcaster (I live in Belgium) has turned equivocation into high art. Even when a science news item comes up that is not at all controversial, they still make a point of inviting a detractor such as to "get both sides".
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Science 1, Antivaxers 0
written by Metiche, January 20, 2009
As the old adage goes, "Don't bother me with the facts. I know what I want to believe"
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written by Rogue Medic, January 20, 2009
In the article, Alison Singer gave an excellent example of what is wrong with the logic of the anti-vaccinationists. Jodie is her daughter. Jodie is autistic.

Here's another story. A few weeks ago, Jodie went to the pediatrician. She had Tdap [tetanus-diptheria-pertussis] vaccine, a flu shot and a vaccine against meningitis. The next day her teacher remarked to me that Jodie was much more attentive and participated in class much more than usual. Her gym teacher said that for the fist time Jodie was able to compete in an obstacle course. Should I start pontificating that vaccines are a great treatment for autism? Of course not, that's not science. That's called coincidence.
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written by Caller X, January 20, 2009
written by Bruno, January 19, 2009

@ConTester, not funny. People with autism indeed are likely to pick up repetitive activities as a way of coping with the complicated and confusing sensations coming from anywhere else (especially other people). This has no bearing on how people with autism think. I myself have high functioning autism and I rather like to believe that the upside of the difficulty of mirroring others' emotions is a reduced sensitivity to emotive arguments.


Sorry, Bruno, speaking as someone without autism, therefore hopefully without the social perception effects, ConTester's remark WAS funny. Not slapnuts laugh outloud funny, but funny. Anything can be offensive if you work hard enough at it. My experience on the internet is that too many people claiming autism use it as leverage to demand special "kid-gloves" treatment and justify obsessive behavior. Please don't be one of those.
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written by Bruno, January 20, 2009
@Caller X
So basically what you're saying is that the comment is funny, provided that one is ignorant of autism. I can think of many comments made by creationists that are positively laugh-out-loud funny to people who have no understanding of, say, evolution.

So I'd like to invite you to re-read my comment. I did not register offense. In order to offend me, one would have to resort to physical tactics. I merely remarked that ConTester's quip relied on the belief that repetitive actions imply repetitive thoughts. Considering that people with a-spectrum disorders are neither known for a lack of creativity nor for being easily sidetracked by emotive arguments, the joke falls flat. Jokes that fall flat are not funny.
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The unvaxed
written by DrMatt, January 21, 2009
The unvaccinated are not only at risk, they create unnecessary risk for all of us.
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Autism/Vaccine debate at MSN.com
written by cleetus8, February 10, 2009

Hey all...if anyone with knowledge on the success of vaccines and hopefully safety wants to chime in (plesae don't do a "you all suck" post), there's a good debate on the vaccine/autism link on the MSNBC message boards. I'm holding my own on the toxicolgy and safety parts (which are my expertise) but I have no good knowledge on the effacy of vaccines or how important they are in getting rid of disease. There are several experts there that are claiming that vaccines do squat and all disease has been reduced due to hygine and better treatment (or better diet, anyway). So, if someone with that expertise wants to weigh in, that'd be helpful.

http://boards.msn.com/Healthboards/thread.aspx?threadid=755015&boardsparam=page=2

Thanks.
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written by Rogue Medic, February 10, 2009
cleetus8,

I generally stay out of forum discussions. I do not have an account with MSN and am not looking to sign up.

There are plenty of good sites. Two with good information are:

http://www.ecbt.org/parents/diseasevaccine.cfm

and

http://www.skepdic.com/antivaccination.html

The skeptic's dictionary is one I like, because they start off with a few quotes (the asterisks at the end of each quote open pages that the quotes come from. There is a lot of information on this page. There are several other sites with great information, but I think they don't post comments if there are more than 2 links included.

Other good sites are Bad Science and Respectful Insolence. I am sure there are plenty more. You were looking for information on the decrease in fatalities due to vaccination, not due to improved sanitation. These are the quotes starting off the Skeptic Dictionary.



Fewer youngsters worldwide are dying of childhood diseases now than at any other time in history. About 80% of children today are vaccinated against such deadly illnesses as measles and polio, compared with 20% in the early 1980s.*


There were an estimated 30 to 40 million cases of measles in 2000, causing some 777,000 deaths.*


...immunization can be credited with saving approximately 9 million lives a year worldwide. A further 16 million deaths a year could be prevented if effective vaccines were deployed against all potentially vaccine-preventable diseases.*



There is no sane reason to avoid vaccination. This is just another conspiracy theory. As with other conspiracy theories, the main cause is the belief that things that happen do so too frequently for coincidence. This only demonstrates their lack of understanding of statistics. We constantly underestimate the role of coincidence in our lives. It is one of the reasons people do not believe in evolution. They can't imagine that many coincidences leading to something organized. Anyway. Follow some links and you will have more information than you know what to do with. The CDC and MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) are some other great sources.

do not let them control the debate. Stick to one topic, or at most, two topics. Don't get distracted by all of the side issues they try to bring in to the conversation. You do not know anything about their cousin/mother/sister/hairdresser/ . . . you are only addressing the risks. All kinds of unusual things may happen, but betting against science is a losing proposition.

There is no good reason to endanger the lives of children by nor vaccinating. There are small risks to vaccines, but the risks of the illnesses are much greater. Vaccines do not cause autism. Do a news search/blog search on Dr. Wakefield. He is in a bit of trouble this week, due to the fraudulent research that started the MMR mercury scares.

good luck. Don't let the crazies get to you.
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