Thimerosal-Autism Stupidity

In the post below Kurt9 take me to task for not discussing the link between thimerosal and autism in a post about the morality of vaccination.

That’s because there isn’t any link, and until some trial lawyers pays me gobs of cash I’m not going to say there is. Tons of research have been done on the subject. No one who doesn’t stand to make a lot of money from lawsuits maintains that any link exists between thimerosal and autism.

I won’t recapitulate this well worn debate. (Quackbuster provides a good summation.) I will simply point out the last piece of evidence that puts the nail into the entire fraud once and for all.

Autism presents in the first three years of life. The bogus theory held that children received their first-year vaccinations with thimerosal, and then 6 months to 2 years later developed autism due to some entirely unprecedented form of mercury poisoning, that by an entirely unknown mechanism causes a highly specific form of unknown brain damage that alters personality and cognition without damaging any other part of the nervous system. (The fact that no other inorganic substance, including mercury, attacks the body in such a specific way didn’t slow anybody down. )

Since the 1930s, themerosal was used in a vast array of medical products to prevent bacterial contamination, and anyone who lived through that period received doses hundreds and thousands of times higher than vaccinated children did. By the late ’80s, the technology had grown old and was being phased out. Then the thimerosal and autism greed-fest began and the phase out accelerated. By 2000, virtually no childhood vaccine contained thimerosal. Only a small percentage of children today under ten have or will be exposed to thimerosal.

Now, since autism presents in the first three years, we should see an immediate and sharp drop in autism rates as thimerosal exposure plummets to near zero. Anybody can understand that.

Autism rates haven’t budged. In fact, they’ve gone up a bit. We’ve performed the one ironclad test of the causal link between thimerosal and autism and proved the hypothesis invalid. End of story.

The real story in thimerosal-autism hysteria is the the inability of the courts to prevent innocent people from being sued based on utterly bogus science. The silicone-breast-implant hysteria represents another example of bogus science leading to billions in lawsuits and thousands of lost jobs, all based on a hypothesis conclusively refuted when we stopped using the supposedly dangerous product.

Why do we even have a legal standard that we can sue somebody based on a wild guess? Why don’t people like Kurt9 who believe in these conspiracies so passionately never bother to test their own hypotheses?

19 thoughts on “Thimerosal-Autism Stupidity”

  1. I am amazed at how many people and how often some people want to link vaccinations with autism despite all the evidence that no link exists. On the other hand, many folks assume there is no real global warming too

  2. Autism, properly speaking, is a spectrum of cognitive and social behaviors to which experts cannot agree on hard and fixed boundaries. As such, the probability of Autism being moncausal condition is low

  3. Joseph Hill,

    The fever effect is indeed good news. Pyrogenesis (the mechanism that cause fevers) is well understood. Perhaps the positive effect can be duplicated, isolated and evoked with drugs.

    On the other hand, many folks assume there is no real global warming too

    The difference in the two hypothesis is instructive. The thermisol-autism hypothesis could be falsified i.e. proven untrue with a simple immediate experiment of removing thermisol. Anthrogenic Global Warming, however, cannot, even in principle, be proven false by any conceivable observation we can make today. So, technically Anthrogenic Global Warming isn’t a testable scientific hypothesis but merely an educated guess.

    A lot of people do not understand this critical distinction.

  4. Shannon – Great stuff, reminiscent of your mention of the carpal-tunnel scare … has anyone complied a list of major junk-science litigation that’s later been proven groundless?

  5. Jay Manifold,
    …has anyone complied a list of major junk-science litigation that’s later been proven groundless?
    The list would be pretty extensive. Off the top of my head I can think of silicon breast implants and John Edward’s “cesarean sections prevent cerebral palsy” scam. Those would be major concepts that lump together a large number of individual trials. The silicon breast implant scam cause manufactures to pay out over 7 billion dollars in bogus claims and caused over a thousand people involved in the manufacture of medical silicon to loose their jobs. John Edwards (IIRC) made nearly 40 million dollars by asserting a link now known to be false. More generally, there are a vast number of smaller trials based on the premise that a trace exposure to some chemical or drug caused a vast array of health problems. The number of supposed causative agents is so vast that one can’t lump them under one name.
    It’s too bad we don’t have a legal mechanism for revisiting the lawsuits. It might make people less likely to file lawsuits based on wild ass guesses if they know that at some future date they might get counter sued when all the facts are known.

  6. None of you guys have done your homework on this.

    The following papers are about the link between thimerasol and autism:

    Journal of Child Neurology, Volume 22, Number 11, November 2007, 1308-1311

    Journal of Child Neurology, Volume 22, Number 11, November 2007, 1321-1323

    Also, do a search on PubMed using “thimerasol, autism”. You will find papers both in support and in denial of the link between thimerasol and autism. The papers by Gaier are especially useful.

    Shannon and others:

    My suggestion is that you do your homework before spouting off about something that you so obviously know nothing about.

  7. Kurt9,

    My suggestion is that you do your homework before spouting off about something that you so obviously know nothing about.

    I know that thimerasol has been removed from all but one or two rarely used versions of childhood vaccines and that as a consequence the early childhood exposure to thimerasol has plummeted. I know that if there was a causative link between thimerasol exposure and autism we would have seen a quite noticeable drop in autism and we haven’t.I don’t have to do any further research. The ironclad test of the hypothesis has been done.

    If you want to argue you need to create a model that explains why thimerasol still causes the same rate of autism even though overall exposure and dosages have dropped dramatically.

  8. Kurt9,

    As a further thought: You have conformational biases. You look for information to confirm your hypothesis instead of looking for evidence that would prove it wrong.

    Science is all about creating hypothesis and then trying to destroy them.

  9. No Shannon,

    The FDA manadated that all new vaccines after 2002 no longer use thimerasol. The existing stock was allowed to be sold. The stock that doctors have were also used up. So, only the past year or two, would the vaccines be completely free of thimerasol.

    Autism is usually diagnosed in children around 6 years old. So, the first kids that have thimerasol-free vaccines will not be 6 years old until 2011 or so.

    More papers for you:

    Neuroendocrinology Letters, Vol 28, No. 5, 565-573, 2007

    Journal of Toxicity and Environmental Health, Part B, 10:575-596, 2007

    Perhaps I have conformational bias in favor of the thimerasol-autism link. However, you have conformational bias against it. At least I am backing up what I say with hard data. You are not.

  10. Kurt9,

    The FDA manadated that all new vaccines after 2002 no longer use thimerasol

    But themirasol has been in phase out since the early 90’s. Do you have any reference to show that thimerasol exposure has increased in the last 10 to 15 years? No, you don’t because it hasn’t. It was already dropping when the trial lawyers invented the linkage.

    Besides, thimerosal was phased out in Canada in 1996 and autism rates have continued to climb. (Probably due to shifts in diagnosis just as in the U.S.) So the test you predict has already been done.

    Autism is usually diagnosed in children around 6 years old.

    Wrong, Autism begins to manifest before age 3 in the majority of cases. The final diagnoses might not be confirmed by age 6 (depending on the criteria used in any particular study) but children do not behave normally until 6 and then suddenly turn autistic.

    However, you have conformational bias against it

    I have no problem with the idea that vaccines have side effects. All vaccines do have side effects some quite severe for a small number of recipients. I do ,however, find the claim that trace amounts of mercury in a widely used compound cause a highly specific neurological symptom in a pattern complete unlike any other form of toxic or metal poisoning known, extraordinary. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. I also find the idea of a vast conspiracy on the part of the world wide medical establish to obscure this effect extraordinary and requiring extraordinary proof that such a conspiracy exist.

    In my experience trail lawyers are much more likely to invent hysteria than to uncover vast conspiracies hiding revolutionary new biochemical effects.

    In the end it simply boils down to this: You say thermisol causes autism. Fine. Thermisol has been phased out. No drop in autism seen. Hypothesis rejected. Case closed.

  11. How many full-blown cases of Autism with highly significant impairments wait for diagnosis at age six vs. Asperger’s or very mild Autistic spectrum disorders ? The latter children are not really what we commonly think of when the word ” Autism” is used.

  12. Zenpundit,

    Yes, I think it fair to say that severe autism, as opposed to behaviors in the autistic “constellation” of symptoms, always arises before age 3.

    In any case it doesn’t matter to the debate at hand. Children in canada have been thermisol free for over a decade and canada still has the same or slightly higher rate of autism.

  13. Reports of autism could still be rising whether there is a thimerosal effect or not, because there’s an entire industry out there – of which the themerosal-autism linkage idea is only one product – dedicated to promoting the idea of an autism epidemic. California, for example, subsidizes it heavily with state-funded benefits for families who have an autistic member, to the point that many parents have shopped their own kids around to multiple doctors until they got the diagnosis they wanted. Not surprisingly, diagnoses of autism among Californian children have risen several hundred percent.

  14. Jay Manifold,

    I didn’t know that but every expert I have read claims that the increase in autism results from nothing but a shift in diagnostic criteria. In the Quackbuster’s post in the parent he points out that as rates of diagnosis of autism have risen rates of diagnosis of retardation have fallen in perfect inverse sync. All that is happening is that children once diagnosed as retarded are now, probably more accurately in most cases, diagnosed as autistic.

    Unfortunately, this only makes the supposed thermisol link less likely. If we can’t accurately measure a phenomenon we can’t accurately study it.

  15. No Shannon,

    The amount of thimerisol in vaccines did not go up over the past 10-15 year. Rather, there was a tremendous increase in the number of kids being vaccinated during this time.

    Autism rates have gone up from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 166 over the past 30 years. It is simply not possible that this could be due to a “genetic” reason. Genetic change does not occur in humans within a 30 year time period. The cause of autism has to be environmental. It is simply insane to believe any different.

    The possible environmental causes of autism could be: 1) some kind of new industrial compound that has been let out into the enviroment in the past 20-30 or, 2)caused by something that MDs did to the kids, most likely vaccinations. There is no other possible explanation.

    Actions speak louder than words. The fact that there is no research or discussion anywhere in the medical community of posilbility 1) is suggestive of the fact that they know full well that it is possibility of 2).

    The problem is, Shannon, is that you are engaging in sophistry, not rational discussion.

  16. Kurt9,

    Autism rates have gone up from 1 in 20,000 to 1 in 166 over the past 30 years.

    There is no objective test for autism. A doctor simply observes the behavior of the child and classifies them. If doctor’s perception of a condition changes, they label it differently. That happened with autism. The increase in autism can be completely explained by shifts in diagnosis from mere retardation to autism. The total number of impaired children, especially the severally impaired has not changed. We merely moved them from column A to column B on the sheets that tally causes of impairment.

    The apparent change in autism is a social process, not a physical change in human beings.

    Actions speak louder than words

    I couldn’t agree more. If thermisol caused autism, then reducing or eliminating thermisol would reduce autism rates. It’s just that simple. The U.S. has dramatically dropped thermisol exposure and Canada has completely eliminated it from all childhood vaccines. The result: no change in autism rates.

    No better experiment could possibly be done. No other level of proof could be asked for.

    The fact that there is no research or discussion anywhere in the medical community of posilbility…

    And yet you yourself linked to several of the dozens of studies done on the issue. People have looked into the claim and consistently found it lacking.

    The problem is, Shannon, is that you are engaging in sophistry, not rational discussion.

    An hypothesis has been presented, tested and found not to predict the actual course of events. That is represents near perfect science. It is you who clings to the concept in the face of ironclad, irrefutable evidence.

    I suggest we simply agree to disagree. Obviously, we argue from wholly different standards of scientific evidence. I seek to falsify hypothesis and you simply grasp every shred of evidence that might confirm your preconceptions.

    I would leave you with one thought: Ask yourself, what possible real-world evidence could prove to you that thermosil DID NOT cause autism? If you can’t think of anything immediately, then you’re not approaching the problem in a scientific manner.

  17. I see conflicting evidence used by this Shannon Love person. I ask you if you are still out there what your thoughts are with data provided by Tom Verstraeten in June 2000 for the CDC?
    Or Dr. Maurice Hilleman, Merck’s top scientist?

    I have also read that the Amish were used as a control group to compare statistics and there are no autistic children in their entire population except for four.
    The four autistic children had been vaccinated. Why not just go and find out yourself?

    Where is the information coming from about Canada? All provinces? If they stopped using thimerosol ten years ago in 1997 that means how many children were immunized in 1997/98? How many millions? By 2007 the vaccinated children from 1997 would be reaching ten years of age. If vaccinations were the issue the numbers won’t be dropping until long after 2007. I’d like to see the vaccination records. Can you get those numbers for me? Thanks I appreciate it. Also could you get the final stats for Russia and Denmark? Thanks again. That would be nice.

    If it’s safe, then why is there an EPA standard set? Do you know more than the EPA? Just asking.

    How about research from pharmacy professor Richard Deth, or researchers at Tufts and John Hopkins University? Are you a research scientist? Do you know more than they do?

    Also one last question. Since everyone seems to be the expert. Why would autistic children suffer from other known problematic conditions if it was just a bad gene? Since when does the immune system suffer from a bad gene? Just curious. I guess a genetic disorder causes digestive problems and immune disorders too? Since your the expert please send me the research to explain that would you? Could you get right on that for me? Thanks I appreciate it very much Shannon.

  18. k-12,

    Your engaging conformational bias. Your pouring over data looking for any speck of information that supports the idea you already passionately believe in. This is intellectually fatal. You can find some scrap of information to support any hypothesis, no matter how false. In science we do the opposite. We look for the one piece of evidence that would prove the hypothesis wrong.

    In the case of the thermisol causes autism hypothesis, we can test the idea by completely stopping the use of themisol in large populations and seeing if autism rates drop. This has been done in Sweden in 1994, Canada in 1996, and the US in 2001. Nowhere has seen a drop in autism.

    There is absolutely nothing more to said on the subject. 90% of autism is diagnosed between the ages of 3-6. If thermosil cause autism we should see a significant drop with 6 years of its suspension. We haven’t. Case closed.

    If you can’t name a piece of evidence that would convince you that thermisol did NOT cause autism then your belief that it does is merely one of faith that cannot be proven or disproved by any argument that I might make.

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