The Lower Quote, As If You Didn't Know, Is By Richard Dawkins, Son.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Fisking Jenny

Jenny McCarthy wrote in (where else?) the Huffington Post today about Andrew Wakefield's crappy research and the non-link between autism and vaccines. Let's go through her piece, shall we?
Last week, parents were told a British researcher's 1998 report linking the MMR shot to autism was fraudulent (link here to Brian Deer's report in the British Medical Journal, BMJ) -- that this debate about vaccines and autism is now over, and parents should no longer worry about giving their children six vaccines at a single pediatric appointment or 36 by the time they are five years old.
I'm not about to check into the totality of childhood vaccines, but here's a link to the schedule in Canada. Feel free to see if they add up to thirty-six.
Is that the whole story? Dr. Andrew Wakefield's study of 12 children with autism actually looked at bowel disease, not vaccines.
Jenny, did you read the paper? You can, right here. See at the end where Wakefield et al. say, "We have identified a chronic enterocolitis in children that may be related to neuropsychiatric dysfunction. In most cases, onset of symptoms was after measles, mumps, and rubella immunisation. Further investigations are needed to examine this syndrome and its possible relation to this vaccine"? Also, in the "results" section in paragraph three they mention the MMR vaccine and talk about a specific case:
One child (child four) had received monovalent measles vaccine at 15 months, after which his development slowed (confirmed by professional assessors). No association was made with the vaccine at this time. He received a dose of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine at age 4·5 years, the day after which his mother described a striking deterioration in his behaviour that she did link with the immunisation.
So, sure, he wasn't talking about vaccines, he just implied that at least one child had a "striking deterioration" after getting his measles vaccine and that we should really look some more into this odd phenomenon. He notes the MMR vaccine multiple times in the chart in his paper as well (where he fudged the data). In my book, that's hardly keeping strictly to bowel disease.
Dr. Wakefield did something I wish all doctors would do: he listened to parents and reported what they said.
Which is great, but don't start saying that what parents say is science or in any way related to vaccines causing autism or any other disease/disorder.
Since when is repeating the words of parents and recommending further investigation a crime?
It's not a crime, Jenny. What Wakefield did was misrepresent what the children's symptoms were and also failed to note a major conflict of interest with respect to where his funding came from for the paper. Oh, and he was unethical in testing the children, doing things like unnecessary lumbar punctures (see note 18 from Deer's investigation paper).
Why does one journalist's (Brian Deer) accusations against Dr. Wakefield now mean the vaccine-autism debate is over?
One journalist's accusations don't mean anything. What means a lot is his documentation of what Wakefield did coupled with the fact that for the last 12 years no one has replicated Wakefield's results or even come close to showing that his hypothesis of a gut/autism connection is valid in any capacity.
I know children regress after vaccination because it happened to my own son.
Richard Feynman said it best: "The most important thing is to not fool yourself, and you're the easiest person to fool." Jenny has not learned this lesson and is still full of "I know it 'cause I saw it" arrogance. This is a perfect example of what I was talking about in my previous post where believers value things like anecdotes over actual evidence. Here we see McCarthy steadfastly clinging to parental anecdotes - mostly her own - when there is twelve years of non-confirming studies and the discrediting of both Wakefield and his "research".
Why hasn't anyone ever studied completely non-vaccinated children to understand their autism rate?
This seems like a decent study to start with, I think. It compares 96 autistic kids and checks their symptom onset (before or after MMR). Worth a look. Still no association between vaccination and any disorder.
This debate won't end because of one dubious reporter's allegations.
"Dubious"? Why is he "dubious", Jenny? Because he came to a different conclusion than you did while looking at the evidence? It's the resort of the desperate to attack the person rather than their arguments. How about you address why Wakefield was paid by lawyers who were going to sue vaccine makers while simultaneously getting patents for his own "alternative" vaccine for the same conditions?

...in the distance, I hear crickets....
I have never met stronger women than the moms of children with autism. Last week, this hoopla made us a little stronger, and even more determined to fight for the truth about what's happening to our kids.
I have no doubt that the parents (it's not just moms, you know) of kids with autism or any other developmental delay are strong and are working to represent and advocate for their children. Their hearts, and Jenny's, are in the right place. The problem is that Jenny and others (Jay Gordon, Oprah, Bill Maher, etc...) are leading them to a place where their brains need to listen to the evidence which is clear in saying that vaccines are not the cause of their suffering. The task is to figure out how to get them to listen.

Other Links: Obviously, Orac stepped up to slap
Also, Kev Leitch weighs in on the topic at Left Brain, Right Brain. (H/T Liz Ditz!)

6 Barbaric Yawps:

At 11/1/11 12:15 PM, Blogger Liz Ditz said...

Thanks for doing this, Mike.

I'm keeping a list of positive responses to the BMJ (Yes Wakefield is a fraud, and here are the implications...) and negative responses (Wakefield's research IS TOO valid and vaccines cause autism anyway) at A roundup of responses to the BJM & Wakefield's research was motivated by fraud.

Some observations
1. The positive responses come from a broad range of sites -- politically left and right; people who are skeptics/ people who have heretofore (to my knowledge) never commented on vaccines or autism before, and so on. The negative responses are from a predictable set of sites and people.
2. The news coverage in the US has (perhaps inadvertently) perpetrated the idea that all parents of children with autism believe in the vaccine causation myth. It is a complete falsehood. Many parents of children with autism and adults with autism robustly reject the myth.
3. Kev Leitch, whose daughter has intense autism, has a moving post on how Wakefield's actions have damaged everyone affected by autism

 
At 12/1/11 12:09 PM, Anonymous L.Long said...

You may never get them to listen because they can't hear you.
They have autistic kids, they have a connection they can blame (vaccines) which allows them to blame something other then themselves. Because if autism is genetic then it is their fault (sort a) and they cant handle that possibility. So unless science can prove that autism is got an external cause other ten genetic they will continue to blame vaccines.
The fact that their fearful believe is causing harm to others is no concern to them.

 
At 13/1/11 11:53 AM, Anonymous Chris S said...

There is an Immunization Schedule Tool linked from the page you reference.

http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/iyc-vve/is-cv-eng.php

I plugged in a December 2010 birthdate for Ontario and generated an immunization schedule.

There are often two *injections* for a single appointment. A flu vaccine might push it to three. The total number of injections by age five might be about 14.

If you count each vaccinated disease as 'one', then some appointments do get six disease vaccinations because of multiple vaccinations per injection. Using that same counting method, the total number of 'vaccine-disease exposures' will total to 36 by age five.

As parent of two kids - I have no problem with this.

Similarly, there is a rare but non-zero risk of Guillain–Barré Syndrome associated with the flu vaccine. I've had a friend with GBS, following a flu shot. It's brutal! And therefore - I annually get a flu vaccination.

We need to help people understand the difference between anecdotes and research. Keep plugging!

 
At 13/1/11 2:01 PM, Anonymous Yojimbo said...

Another part of the problem is that people generally have a very poor understanding of probabilities. My wife, for example, tends to be a worrier - to her if there is any possibility that something bad can happen, no matter how unlikely, she worries about it and tries to take precautions. I take precautions only against things I consider reasonably probable.

I think this is pretty common, and is part of the reason for some of the vaccine fear - it is possible for a vaccine to cause a problem, so its something to worry about. Never mind that the disease it would prevent is far more likely to occur and thousands of times more likely to cause serious harm.

Of course, the rabid true-believers are unreachable, but I wish more of the fence-sitters could understand the distinction between possible and probable.

 
At 7/6/11 7:04 AM, Blogger Shadeburst said...

Mike, isn't it a bit unfair to lump rationalist skeptic Bill Maher with Jenny Mac and Oprah?

I did a bit of googling and wiki-ing and Maher seems to be skeptical about vaccination, as part of a (healthy?) general skepticism towards the medical establishment.

I couldn't find Maher supporting vaccine-autism links though if he has, I stand corrected and will certainly post a hissy comment on his fan page.

 
At 7/6/11 8:01 AM, Blogger Heathen Mike said...

Nope, I don't think it's unfair at all to lump "rationalist skeptic" Bill Maher in with those other two. Maher seems to have a giant hole in his science-cred when it comes to vaccines. Here's Maher as a topic on ScienceBlogs where he gets blasted for being stupidly anti-vaccine.

 

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