Vaccines, Autism, & Epidemiology – A Call for Better Science

Epidemiology is called the ‘basic science of public health,’ but its contribution to this goal is constrained by a preoccupation with supposedly universal exposure-disease relationships that impedes consideration of the contexts in which exposures occur. … [Because] exposure-disease relationships are not self-contained, homogeneous or independent phenomena, they constitute an inadequate object of epidemiological science (Wing, 1994, Medicine and Global Survival, 1, 74-86).

When it comes to the great Autism-Vaccine debate, I don’t know about you but I feel as though I’ve been watching an aggressive never-ending tennis match that’s given me one hell of a crick in my neck. On the one side, parents and like minds arguing tooth-and-nail that vaccines cause autism; on the other side, the CDC, doctors, and the high-functioning autistic community just as fervently arguing there’s no connection. And here I sit in the middle along with other relatively calm confused people, watching both sides talk themselves blue in the face, vainly attempting to convince the opposing side they’re wrong. (As an aside, how often does that approach actually work? Just curious.)

Very truthfully I can tell you that I don’t fall with either side. I don’t assume vaccines share links with autism etiology, nor do I discount it a priori.

“–But wait!” you say to me. “What do you mean ‘a priori’? Studies have already proven that vaccines share no links to autism etiology, they are not harmful but instead disease-preventative inoculations, and there need be no further research on the topic.”

Well, you can just call me a scientific stickler I guess, because to me epidemiological studies generally don’t answer questions but raise them and are meant to lead lab-based science in the directions it needs to go to answer those questions. (Mind you, this isn’t a criticism of the method but merely an insistence that it has its place but is often misused and over-stretched.) We’ve done plenty of autism-vaccine epidemiological studies but where are the animal studies, the in vitro work, the basic gold standards of our biological science which are meant to immediately follow? Sadly, there is a current dearth of those kinds of studies.

I want you to take a second to refer back to the quote I’ve provided above. In a nutshell, it describes the gross limitation of epidemiological studies of disease-exposure scenarios, which is what any link between autism and vaccines hypothetically is: an exposure which triggers or worsens a disease.

In science, when we have an idea we propose two hypotheses. One, the alternative hypothesis, states our primary prediction, in this instance that “Vaccine exposure shares a relationship with autism.” Our other hypothesis is called the null hypothesis, which would state that “There is no relationship between vaccine exposure and autism.” We subsequently design an experiment to test our hypotheses. Should our results prove statistically insignificant we say, “Our results fail to reject the null hypothesis.” This doesn’t mean that we’ve disproven our original alternative hypothesis, au contraire. In science, all we can say in this instance is “We still don’t know.” And if we wish to have our answer it requires further testing. The logic of this lies in the fact that our capacity to measure a true effect is often very dependent on the means we choose to measure it, which many times may be completely inadequate and provide us with a false negative. Therefore if we concluded from negative results that our alternative hypothesis isn’t true, our conclusions would frequently be wrong, hence the statistical caution.

Some researchers say that a hypothesis test can have one of two outcomes: you accept the null hypothesis or you reject the null hypothesis. Many statisticians, however, take issue with the notion of ‘accepting the null hypothesis.’ Instead, they say: you reject the null hypothesis or you fail to reject the null hypothesis.

Why the distinction between ‘acceptance’ and ‘failure to reject?’ Acceptance implies that the null hypothesis is true. Failure to reject implies that the data are not sufficiently persuasive for us to prefer the alternative hypothesis over the null hypothesis [ref].

A number of epidemiological studies have been carried out and many have failed to reject the null hypothesis. These results have generally been taken in support of the null hypothesis. As hopefully I’ve begun to make clear, this is bad bad science.

Granted, in defense of these studies, if there truly is no relationship between vaccines and autism, then you could go on performing epidemiological studies ad infinitum with a hypothesis that can never be proven false. So, in reality, there must be a limit at which point we say that so many failures to reject the null must indicate a dubious link.

However we come back to the problem of the methods in which we choose to study an issue. As Wing (1994) wrote, epidemiological studies are a poor means for delineating exposure-disease relationships because at such a macroscopic level of analysis important details are completely washed away, details which can make the difference between statistical significance or insignificance. And while some animal studies have been performed to date, the results of these studies (those at least which appear halfway reliable) have not been used to inform our opinions but rather the larger epidemiological ones. Below is a listing of some of the major epidemiological studies on the issue to give you some examples.

Kaye et al. (2000). BMJ, 322, 460.
Chen et al. (2004). Psychological Medicine, 34, 543-553.
Dales et al. (2001). JAMA, 285, 1183-1185.
Honda et al. (2005). Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 46, 572-579.
Geier & Geier. (2004). Medical Science Monitor, 10, PI33-39.

Contrary to media representation, there have been a couple animal studies which have addressed some of these issues. For instance, Hewitson’s group has focused their efforts on primate studies, looking first at the effects of thimerosal-containing Hepatitis B vaccination on various rhesus macaque neonatal behaviors, finding that in exposed infants rooting, snouting, and sucking behaviors were significantly delayed following exposure [ref]. The group went on to study aspects of brain develop in primate neonates exposed to the complete vaccination schedule utilized for American children from 1994-1999, finding that amygdala volumes were overall decreased as well as the binding capacity of diprenorphine [ref]. –Mind you, it is concerning that Andrew Wakefield is attached to both these studies, considering he has proven himself scientifically untrustworthy. However, Hewitson is a good and honest researcher and for that reason I am willing to give these studies a chance.

Other studies have also been performed utilizing animal models. Hornig et al. (2004) for instance exposed autoimmune disease-sensitive mouse pups (SJL/J strain) to thimerosal-only and thimerosal-containing vaccines, and then compared their development to identically-exposed autoimmune disease-insensitive strains (C57BL/6J and BALB/cJ), as well as within-strain controls. The researchers found no differences between the thimerosal-only and thimerosal-containing vaccine groups and therefore condensed them into one. According to the researchers, thimerosal-exposed SJL/J mice exhibited general hypoactivity, although spatial memory and gross motor coordination were insignificantly affected. Sadly, the most interesting “results” of this study were based upon poor stereological methods, nullifying whatever conclusions these scientists had derived (i.e., increased cell packing density within the hippocampus). Rather than using anatomical boundaries by which to determine cell density of the hippocampus and its subregions, the researchers used basic geometry to divide the region, a fatally flawed approach. For those seasoned in the histological study of neuropathology, such approaches are horribly biased and can lead to false results. What makes this even sadder is the fact that no groups have attempted to replicate this work, leaving a good idea to simply rot on the scientific shelves.

There is a dearth of good science addressing whether vaccinations play some role in the etiology of cases of autism. Severe autoimmune reactions following vaccination are noted in the literature (see Guillame-Barré syndrome following influenza vaccination, for instance) and so it is clear that inoculations are not necessarily innocuous but designed to promote an immune reaction. In short, it’s why they’re successful as vaccines. But for as much public attention as this debate has drawn, it hasn’t drawn the right kinds of scientific attention, that truly in-depth unbiased analysis which hard questions like this seem to require.

There have been plenty of epidemiological studies. And those people who wish to believe that vaccinations share no relationship with autism have been eager to twist the commonly-used phrase “These results do no appear to support a link between autism and vaccines” into “These studies prove there is no relationship between autism and vaccines.” I can promise you, these statements are not equal. The former suggests that further in-depth study is necessary; the latter implies that questions have been answered and no more research is needed. On the flip side, proponents of autism-vaccine links have been all too eager to use shoddy research as a foundation for their arguments as well. Both sides have been misusing science for personal agenda, which does an extraordinary disservice to the autistic people both groups are professing to help.

Simply on a humanitarian stance, I prefer that vaccines share no relationship with autism. Who after all would want something like this to occur and forever change a child’s life? However, enough parents have reported curious circumstances regarding their children’s behaviors immediately following vaccination that concern is warranted. On the other hand, we also should be not assuming that there is a causal link before appropriate studies have been performed, especially considering how vital herd immunity is to keeping many diseases far worse than autism at bay. While much may be at risk should a relationship become apparent, much is at risk through the refusal of childhood inoculations as well. This is a matter which must be handled delicately, cautiously, and calmly. Emotion has its place, but it often doesn’t make us rational judges but can blind us to important evidence.

I reiterate that I am not saying I believe autism and vaccinations share a relationship with one another, nor am I saying I believe they do not. What I’m trying to bring light to is the fact that the science which has been used to address this question, in my perception, has been woefully inadequate in its capacity to answer it. We need more lab-based studies, ones which look at exposure and then gauge, not only changes in animal behavior, but changes in brain development. And studies, I would stress, which comprise scientists who are well-trained and offer reliable results; not the slapdash methodology which comes from inexperience. The benefit of animal studies is the reduction of variables which must be accounted for, offering the researcher a better means to judge cause and effect in minute detail. Epidemiology offers no such benefit.

While my area of study is indeed autism, the topic of this post doesn’t fall under my purview of expertise and so if I have failed to report on important issues, I invite you to comment below as I’m always eager to learn more. I also ask that anyone preferring to comment, given the heated nature of the debate that surrounds this topic, to please post respectfully towards me and any other posters. I realize it can feel like life-and-death for some, to which I offer my utmost empathy, but congenial communication will gain you more listeners. Thanks in advance and thanks for reading.

56 responses to “Vaccines, Autism, & Epidemiology – A Call for Better Science

  1. Very, very well said Emily, I couldn’t agree more, but would just add one very important point to be aware of. When designing and carrying out animal studies to test effects of vaccines on developing animals, one should absolutely bear in mind what is already known about possible role of perinatal immunity and inflammation – especially the link between EARLY immune dysfunction and autism.

    We know from animal studies that autism-related symptoms and behaviours can be induced in offspring by maternal infections and immune mediators. We also know from animal studies that such perinatal immune stressors skew the immune/inflammatory responses in the long term: animals who are for example prenatally exposed to one low dose of LPS show aberrant immune responses later in life. It would be important to study THOSE animals in particular – how would they be affected by vaccines, compared to animals who hadn’t been exposed to such stressors in the womb, and whose immune system is therefore intact?

    Correcting immune abnormalities in post-exposure experiment animals with immune-modulatory treatments results in normalisation of immune function, and brings about improvements in cognitive function AND reversal of abnormal autism-related behaviours – see in particular Hsiao et al. study published last year. What would have happened to those mice if the researches exposed them instead to further immune stress through repeated vaccinations – would their autism-related behaviours have gotten more severe?

    A recent multi-genome analysis study by Saxena et al. found links between genes that predispose individuals to aberrant immune response to infections and risk of developing autism. In addition, two separate studies, one by Abdallah and colleagues, the other by Brown and colleagues, using large European birth cohorts both found perturbed immune responses and pro-inflammatory biomarkers in mothers and NEWBORNS who later develop autism (Abdallah et al., 2012; Brown et al., 2013). How do such babies react to childhood vaccinations?

  2. Thanks for the additional information. You definitely raise very important questions, illustrating how much is still unknown regarding this issue. I hope at some point the emotional tides will turn and some real work can be done to investigate all these possibilities. Thanks again!

  3. Hi. As you say much of the debate between “the two sides” has been informed by epidemiological studies. Only “informed” is a poor descriptor to use – blinded might be better.
    To disprove a connection between the MMR and development of autism a vast study looked at kids who had received the MMR and compared them to kids who had not been given that jab. They found no significant difference in numbers of cases arising in each group. Therefore, said the epidemiologists, and the medical establishment and the media and the politicians, the MMR does not cause autism.

    How stupid do they have to be to believe that?

    Look at 1940s kids – no autism. Look at never vaccinated kids – no autism.

    But the animal studies have been done – on a child by child by child basis. That much is quite clear, too.

    • Hi, greencentre, thanks very much for your input. One thing I’d really like to stress is that it’s vitally important that controlled studies be performed investigating not only whether there is a true relationship between vaccinations and autism risk but if there is what are the specific underlying biological mechanisms through which this occurs. But in order to answer either of these things, we need to have controlled lab-based research. That, unfortunately, will not be answered by looking at larger trends in human populations (though it’d be much easier if this were true!). As part of the point of the above post is to stress that such large, vague studies don’t offer us the specificity required to answer a disease-exposure relationship question; those answers it does give us are dubious and require more in-depth study. I realize that non-scientists may have difficulty picturing why scientists can seem so anal-retentive about this, but I can promise you it’s from many many years of combined experience investigating cause-effect relationships and seeing pitfall after statistical pitfall. Looking at large population studies, even the kind you propose, are still untrustworthy– because there are so many variables that will inevitably pervert the results. Which is why I’m calling for more lab-based science. Animal studies, cell culture, etc. With this design, there is far more control over all the variables so that if there is an effect, we will 1) be more likely to catch it, and 2) have a comparably easier time discerning potential causal relationships. Again, the purpose of the post is to stress that we need to have better science, not just more of the same.

      • Gosh, there’s a lot of follow up here so I’ll try to be brief.
        I’m university genetics/immunology background and have 3 never vaccinated kids – that decision made in 1993, way before the MMR/Wakefield saga.
        Aware of the might of the orthodoxy in pressing home “the need to be vaccinated” I’ve worked hard to develop as broad a picture of the sundry inputs to this debate.
        I think lab animal studies can provide little information to clarify the picture – although our household, handed down dog is a severe case of vaccine damage. (Honestly – she practically died from it.)
        Powerful chemical cocktails introduced to the bloodstream of very immature human children obviously have a range of outcomes. A bit like a drone bomber, piloted by an agent 5000 miles away going after an insurgent in a busy market square.
        We should start off with the onus of proof of functionality placed upon the vaccinator. That case has never, ever been demonstrated.
        Keep your thoughts refreshingly open,
        Chris Hemmings
        PS – “Herd immunity” is another sacred cow that needs dispatching. Are you part of a herd?

      • To this – cake – issue the answer is categorical YES as tis made gluten free and almond, buckwheat (not a wheat at all), gram and rice flours are used. Wheats are, of course, another totally crucial health issue – as a negative and not as a positive.

  4. Hi Emily –

    You have an open mind and haven’t reached any conclusions. Unfortunately, as you have witnessed, while refreshing, this attitude is nearly never rewarded in this debate.

    I expect you will be attacked for referencing Hewitson. The criticism of that paper was withering, and I largely agreed with it at the time. What scares me to death is that for all of the faults of that paper, she *was* the first person to attempt to emulate a full vaccine schedule in an animal model.

    I also think that referencing the Geirs is a mistake; they are not to be trusted.

    Natascha makes a good point regarding a prior environmental impact predisposing a set of infants to respond differentially. The literature on glial priming tells us that not all insults are created equal, and prior experience can shape how the immune system reacts in the future; especially in ths CNS. I think this would include chronic inflammation (i.e., the maternal CRP study), or acute insults (i.e., you got the flu). This is a problematic area to evaluate in humans, but in animals, would be relatively straightforward.

    The literature is littered with examples of powerful immune insults altering behaviors and the neuroimmune environment. While the animal models are problematic, and figuring out what a five day old mouse looks like, developmentally, to a human is more guess than science, they are all we have. Two in particular that you might find of interest are:

    The immune system and developmental programming of brain and behavior (Bilbo)
    Or
    Neonatal programming of innate immune function

    The second part of this equation is that the immune findings in the autism population consistently point to a predisoposition to inflammation, and/or impairments in regulating the immune response. If there was going to be a subgroup of infants to respond *differently* to vaccination, this is a good one to look at.

    Despite the fury and bluster of the people who insist we’ve evaluated this to death, the overwhelming majority of our epidemiology is based on two things; the MMR, and thimerosal. That’s it. Unfortunately, our vaccine schedule includes a lot more than that; most of it given months or even a year before the MMR. For whatever reason, there is a consistent inability to comprehend why the dimension of developmental time may be an important parameter in the design of our observations.

    Finally, I think that the context of *other* environmental, or genetic participation in autism should be considered; namely, that everything we see seems to be a low penetrant effect. *If* vaccines are playing a part (?), I would expect them to follow a similar profile, i.e., a small nudge as opposed to a massive force.

    You’ve kicked the hornets nest!

    – pD

    • “I expect you will be attacked for referencing Hewitson. ”

      Why? Disagree, yes. Point out the flaws, yes. Attack? No.

      “Despite the fury and bluster of the people who insist we’ve evaluated this to death, the overwhelming majority of our epidemiology is based on two things; the MMR, and thimerosal. That’s it.”

      These were the two major hypotheses of the vaccine-causation community. Even the attorneys for the Omnibus Autism Proceeding only chose those two ideas to put forth as theories. It is disingenuous now when the people who called for this work complain that this was the focus. Many of the same people deny the results of those studies.

      We are now left with what I am admittedly simplifying to: “there is an immune component to some or much of autism. Vaccines affect the immune system. Therefore vaccines cause autism”.

      If someone wants to do studies on animals and vaccines, go ahead. But (a) do it well and (b) find a different source of funding than autism. A lot of money has gone into the question so far. I’d rather see more work on something that will help my kid out in the future. That’s one of the areas people are talking about when they say, “we need to look at more fuitful areas of research”. Which is a whole lot different than saying, “don’t do this any more”.

      • Hi Sullivan –

        “These were the two major hypotheses of the vaccine-causation community. ”

        I don’t think it does anyone any good to try to break down this discussion into discrete, binary units. The OP has stated, repeatedly within her post, that she doesn’t know one way or the other if there is a relationship; just that to her eye, the science to ask that question is incomplete. You seem to admit as much, instead of answering, ‘this is the science on vaccination’, you answer, ‘other peoples major hypothesis were incorrect’. It would seem that you would agree, in a sense with the OP our observations *are* incomplete; it may just be that because *other* people had incorrect hypothesis, that therefore, this hypothesis, must also be incorrect. You may be right, but you have abandoned the scientific principle in order to get there; it isn’t about what observation has told us, it is about the failings of previous hypothesis.

        The reality is that *since* we undertook thimerosal analysis and MMR analysis, our understanding of how immune challenges in early life can persistently modify brain structure has grown significantly. This is why studying the biological underpinnings of vaccination are incomplete; they possibility of an underlying mechanism of action was a black swan. We don’t have that luxury anymore.

        “If someone wants to do studies on animals and vaccines, go ahead. But (a) do it well and (b) find a different source of funding than autism.”

        Well, we are least in partial agreement!

        “I’d rather see more work on something that will help my kid out in the future.”

        I would urge you to consider the possibility that these two things are not necessarily contradictory. Consider the Derecki and Patterson models involving bone marrow transplants that came out this year. While they are not about vaccines, they *are* about the immune component of autism behavior development, and early life immune challenges (at least Patterson), they observed relevant physiological changes in the treatment group, and behavioral rescue through immunomodulatory approaches. That is some exciting work, especially for the rett community, where we *might*, eventually, be able to affect change in a meaningful timeframe. We can learn a lot by modeling what is actually happening in the real world; and as clear by the lack of an *alternative* to Hewitt, this modeling simply hasn’t been done.

        Consider the experiment proposed by Natasha, a model of in utero challenge, followed subsequently by immune challenges; the underlying data on double, or multiple hits is increasingly consistent. Multiple hits is worse than one hit; and the population affected is the microglia.

        The fact that Mark Blaxill was wrong on thimerosal does not do anything to reduce the significance of these findings. It just so happens, physiologically, the changes observed in the CNS from treatment animals bears similarity to what we see in autism; doesn’t that interest you? Are you genuinely incurious on this?

        Gaining a better understanding of what these changes look like, how they are arrived at, can lead to answers on how they might be *treatable*.

    • >>Finally, I think that the context of *other* environmental, or genetic participation in autism should be considered; namely, that everything we see seems to be a low penetrant effect. *If* vaccines are playing a part (?), I would expect them to follow a similar profile, i.e., a small nudge as opposed to a massive force. <<

      I would definitely agree with this, if they're having any effect. And like you say, perhaps in those with a predisposition, e.g., immune dysfunction, earlier insult, etc. Which was why I actually liked the initial design of that mouse study I referenced, despite the poor analysis it applied. It was actually quite a good idea. If only it had had good techniques behind it. :/

      Regarding the Geirs, I can definitely see from their publications that their work seems dubious. And even in adding that reference in, I did so simply to show what was available, and not whether it was "good".

      Thanks for the back and forth. I appreciate the information.

      • This just came to my inbox. How wrong:
        >>Finally, I think that the context of *other* environmental, or genetic participation in autism should be considered; namely, that everything we see seems to be a low penetrant effect. *If* vaccines are playing a part (?), I would expect them to follow a similar profile, i.e., a small nudge as opposed to a massive force. <<
        Vaccines are, in a very clear manner, the spanner in the works and not a minor contributor to an overall trend. That there is a wide spread of outcomes is to be sorted out – and obviously the input varies from case to case for a range of reasons (diet, age, maternal immune status, breast feeding, home and lifestyle, other stresses. Even a genetic contribution!)
        Autism was non existent in the 1940s and has grown on an increasingly exponential scale since then – matching the increased usage of vaccines.
        I'm not saying QED but I am saying vaccines are an enormous elephant in this room – as per my blog!
        Chris

  5. Sorry to go into off-topic details here, but let me point out how I read this.
    ” On the one side, parents and like minds arguing tooth-and-nail that vaccines cause autism; ”

    Some minority of parents. You took the common approach of pitching this as “parents vs. CDC and “high functioning” autistics”. I’m a parent. Believe me, my kid has major challenges. As do many of us who are tired of the vaccine debate and feel that the science is good enough to lay to rest the major questions, and not good enough to take time on the minor ones.

    “And here I sit in the middle along with other relatively calm confused people, watching both sides talk themselves blue in the face, vainly attempting to convince the opposing side they’re wrong.”

    I don’t know who is trying to convince those who adhere to the vaccine-epidemic idea that they are wrong. I’ve been at this too long to think it possible. That said, note that you’ve framed this as “I’m calm and the others are not”. I’m tired of it, but I’m calm.

    I disagree that animal studies, especially in autism, are the gold standard. How many mice talk or understand social cues?

    Also consider that the primary basis of the idea that vaccines cause autism *is* epidemiological. People claimed “autism rates went up when (a) MMR was introduced (b) thimerosal exposure increased or (c) the number of vaccines increased.” Without the epidemiology, there is very little evidence to suggest followin this path.

    You would do well to not cite the Geiers in any list of “major epidemiological” studies. Their lack of ethics and poor methodology are legendary. I know that sounds like I’m getting angry, but it is an accurate statement. Read the IOM report discussion of their work (uninterpretable) or the vaccine court’s discussion (intellectually dishonest and worse).

    Aside from including the Geiers, your list ends in 2005. This is 2013. A LOT of work has been done in that time. I believe the AAP maintains a list of the major studies. Thompson (2007) and Price (2009?) would be just two major ones for thimerosal (although Thompson is non autism). Thompson may also be Thomson. For MMR, you have Honda. Hornig et al. (PLoS ONE) is an excellent example of non-epidemiological studies.

    “Hewitson is a good and honest researcher and for that reason I am willing to give these studies a chance.” Good an honest or not, her studies were exceedingly poor in methodology. The number of animals was very low, the grouping of control and non-control was arranged so as to drastically reduce the power of her studies. In one she had, as I recall, 4 control animals. Of which 2 dropped out. 2 control animals. That’s it. With that basis, she claimed that the amygdalas of control animals shrank as the infants aged. Besides being a huge red flag, it was a point directly contradicted by research available to her at the time of writing her paper. As a researcher, albeit in a non-autism field, I considered that paper an example of how incredibly poor work can get published.

    “These results do no appear to support a link between autism and vaccines” into “These studies prove there is no relationship between autism and vaccines.”

    This is a bit of a straw man. Most of us are careful in our language. BUT, and this is a big one, there is a huge difference between a scientific statement and a layman’s statement of strong opinion. Consider those who say, “Vaccines caused an autism epidemic”. They make this statement with poor supporting evidence, but are making the statement as lay people. Often those discussions are turned around in, “you can’t say that vaccines don’t cause autism, you have to stick to the rules of scientific inquiry”. It’s a nice double standard.

    You cite Maddy Hornig’s thimerosal mouse study, but not her MMR study. That was odd enough. What you also failed to do is cite the MIND Institute’s study which showed that Hornig et al. was incorrect. “Low-Level Neonatal Thimerosal Exposure: Further Evaluation of Altered Neurotoxic Potential in SJL Mice” They used as much as 10x the thimerosal exposure as in Hornig et al.. And didn’t see the effects claimed in Hornig.

    So when you write “What makes this even sadder is the fact that no groups have attempted to replicate this work, leaving a good idea to simply rot on the scientific shelves.” It comes across rather odd. People did try. They tried hard. But you are unaware of it.

    So when you go to the next paragraph with “There is a dearth of good science addressing whether vaccinations play some role in the etiology of cases of autism. ” it doesn’t come across as strong as you might think to someone who has actually followed the research. A lot has happened since 2005, and you don’t appear aware of it.

    I appreciate you are focused on autism for your research. But I would strongly encourage you to spend some time to catch up on the literature about vaccines and autism.

  6. I do need to spend more time catching up on the literature, I agree with you on that. However, I am very good at finding the literature that’s available and what is most striking to me is that it’s REALLY HARD to easily find the available studies. When I look up any other given topic, say on Google Scholar or PubMed, studies will more than likely abound. But doing one or two studies on a given approach to a topic are inadequate. I may be a newbie in this area, which I readily admit, but I do have experience in seeing quite easily what’s available and what isn’t. And the studies you speak of are far and few between. One or two studies investigating a topic are inadequate. I’m telling you as a scientists, this is not how it’s done (at least “done well”). And, yes, there was a follow-u p study after the thimerosal Hornig experiment, and the main reason I didn’t cite it was because it only looked at behavioral outcome. While I’m not one to poo-poo behavioral investigation, it’s not the crutch on which biological research stands but is generally used to complement more invasive work, like the earlier Hornig study earlier did, albeit not well. I was very disappointed that that study didn’t do any stereological investigations or the like, because without additional experimentation the study didn’t seem to improve that much on the information available. Thimserosal is, in essence, a free radical and neither of these studies appeared to knowledgeably investigate its effects, i.e., how other studies researching free radical behavior in vivo might be designed.

    You are citing single studies. What I’m trying to communicate is that, compared to other areas of scientific investigation, there’s not much in this field. It hasn’t been given much attention, despite the excessive public attention. And me being less familiar with the literature doesn’t change that fact. The reason I have had such a hard time finding the literature is because there’s not a whole lot out there to begin with. And to a lay person, it may seem like this has been investigated ad nauseum, but to a scientist it’s clear that this has been given only glancing attention and half-hearted effort. When I type in “thimerosal” and “animal model” into Google Scholar, I primarily get studies that have used thimserosal as an oxidizing agent, excepting the Hewitson study; nothing beyond that relating to autism. What this tells me is that there is a dearth of studies. I am being professionally honest here. And even with the criticisms of the Hewitson studies, it stresses the need even more for these types of investigations because it means that there are even fewer reliable animal studies.

    Regarding animal models, I agree that they are not a gold standard of autism research in terms of behavioral models. I have little faith in those myself despite that journal publication for a new animal model always seems to require them– which is why scientists do the behavioral testing. But let’s face it, a mouse can’t be autistic. And the behavioral measurements are imprecise at best. However, what I am proposing is to study how these agents affect the development of animals, in order to discern a potential mechanism of action. Not to try to turn a mouse autistic. This information would still be useful in understanding any potential mechanisms in humans should an effect exist.

    And mind you, as a developmental biologist this is one approach I can see being easily applied and to which I have a bias admittedly simply because of my training. But I’m sure there’s more in terms of other lab-based approaches and even some in-depth clinical studies which could be applied as well.

    My apologies in the post above if I’ve overstated anything for the sake of simplicity. I do realize that it’s not just parents vs. CDC,etc. It was just a perceptive generalization on my part and I’m sorry if it’s offended you. After I had posted it, I had considered that but at which point it was already out there and somewhat too late.

  7. Pingback: The Annul Hypothesis | Biomedical ecology and other sciences·

  8. Hi Emily – et al. This is an area I’ve covered before and feel understanding is openly or passively avoided by the scientific research community. I freely admit my role is as agitator because the inactivity frankly appalls me;
    So from May 2011 there’s “If Wakefield were a bond trader…”
    http://greencentre.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/if-wakefield-were-a-bond-trader/

    but also, in a push to clarify things even further I just put this together.

    Inspired not a little by this chat I can now offer you “The Annul Hypothesis”:
    http://bmeandothersciences.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-annul-hypothesis/

  9. I can certainly see cause for concern and reason for wanting more research. But I am pretty agnostic when it comes to tending one way or the other, though you’ve spent more time reviewing this issue than I have. From what I’ve read you seem to be leaning towards a vaccination-autism link. I can certainly understand your point and we both definitely agree on the need for more and better research. Though, as I say, I still want to see that research first before I take a stand on whether I think there is a true relationship or not. Hopefully you likewise can understand my ambiguity as much as I can understand your passion.

  10. Sure I understand scientific objectivity. That is my stronghold, “Deep in my DNA” as one might blushingly say, but it is fundamental to all my thought.

    As you correctly point out, the statistical analyses quoted do not and could not disprove an association between MMR use and physiological compromise, such as autism.

    My point is that they are not even designed to, for they are conceived to examine whether the MMR is a safe vaccine and not to explore the far more relevant question as to whether vaccines generically are harmful. Should I write it loud? Vaccines GENERICALLY are harmful. Mm, that feels better.

    It’s a conjuring trick, a diversion, sleight of hand and always ignores any attempt to explain the soaring rates of physiological abnormalities developed post vaccine administration to infants. It dates back right to the time of Jenner and continues today.

    There’s obvious humanist and personal reasons for my concern but one of the deepest reasons is pure scientific, because I detest the mis-use of this noble discipline. Deeply entrenched here, the cavalier mis-use is monstrous and the worst is that the scientific community is so cowed it does not shout loud the obvious. Yeah, that’s my passion.

  11. I do understand your point. I suspect that, given the monies tied up in vaccinations, plus potential dangers of people foregoing vaccines, there have been inherent biases which have lead to seeking confirmation for minds already made up. Then again, those are only my suspicions. But it is the primary reason I wouldn’t trust the CDC or like organizations investigating this issue because I would be distrustful of that potential bias. With the epi studies, we may well be seeing that. Perhaps to some that may reek of governmental or big-business paranoia which has colored our country’s history, but when it comes to capitalism I haven’t generally noticed such paranoia to be particularly unfounded. Insurance companies allow people to die so they can save a buck (or billions of bucks); such companies also eagerly lobby our government in a bizarre yet legal means of bribery; and government in general seems more interested in their own personal lives as career politicians, living election by election, rather than in their responsibilities as civil servants. I suspect though that the greatest roadblocks have not been due to deliberate deception but to bias. The problem of people, both sides, making up their minds before research was available. Admittedly, if I were a parent and my child displayed a rapid regression of skills immediately following vaccination, I’d probably be convinced myself. And actually it is those cases which I find most moving and which allow me to keep an open mind and not side necessarily with the majority of researchers and doctors. Subtle regressions are difficult to be certain of, but from my understanding there have been enough cases of coinciding severe regression within the one or two weeks following vaccination which are difficult to argue with. At least I find them difficult to argue with. It’s those cases which stick out in my mind and which I wish were studied more intensively. I think they could be especially informative.

    • Oh, there’s no “ potential bias” in those stats, they are deliberately obscurantist – they ask the wrong question because it does not challenge the actual outcome of the jab, just the outcome relative to other jabs.

      OK – for regression read the history of the Guardian’s Charlotte Moore. Three boys she’s had. One and two are well chronicled – by her – regressive, stage by stage autistics. The third, last born, is not. Although she gave MMRs to the first two, the third remains unvaccinated and in normal good health. When I last read her she still insisted MMR had nothing to do with the autism, even tho’ the regressions were each just following a further jab. Hey, tho’, she got lots of copy from it….
      Then go to Australian Dr Viera Scheibner
      http://www.vierascheibner.org/
      to read about the timing of infant reaction to vaccine challenge. Like clockwork! Very scientific work and clearly deeply worrying. I’ve met her and she’s accurate and honest.
      For any benefit to vaccines I guess you need do your own research but bear in mind how well evolved and sensitive the immune system is (Like 4 billion years in the making) and how homeostasis and other physiological processes are non-linear and interlinked. To me it seems we should not seek to hijack the system, as we do thro’ vaccines, but to enable optimal sensitivity – nutrition, lifestyle etc and accept that illness managed – measles, chicken pox etc – are natural strengthening of the system so a positive rather than a negative.
      Finally the insurance issue. As well as the General Medical Council finding it impossible to admit to making such a profound and ongoing mistake and so deeply losing face, the issue of reparations for vaccine damage would bankrupt the Government, the Pharmaceutical Industry and the Medical practitioners. Just imagine the claims that could be made for life-long-care and damages. One would run out of noughts, I fear.

      This also will sound trite but clearly the best cure for autism is to stop creating autistics. To return to the state of play circa 1940 when there were none.
      PS. The solution for the ongoing cases of vaccine damage is also there but that’s another story. Another tea break, maybe!……

      • Thanks for the additional info, although I would hazard some caution in word choice with this statement, “This also will sound trite but clearly the best cure for autism is to stop creating autistics. To return to the state of play circa 1940 when there were none.” It can really be taken the wrong way, even if written with the best of intentions. Even though I am a scientist and truly do feel for the plight of families who are struggling just to survive day by day (which I would gladly make efforts to help), I am also very close to the online adult autistic community and can appreciate aspects of neurodiversity too. Many people do feel that severe cases of autism have little in common with higher-functioning people, but while there are obvious differences, I see them as differences partly of severity and not of kind. Although on the other hand, I believe there is a CONSIDERABLE amount of heterogeneity across the spectrum, which includes very heterogeneous etiology of people with comparable levels of disability. So when it comes to autism and the behaviors, I’m a lumper, but when it comes to etiology, I’m an excessive splitter– but in neither case do I find level of functioning to be a useful paradigm in understanding the science of the condition.

        Sorry for the digression but I’m familiar with some of the criticisms that may follow my ties with camps like neurodiversity and just thought I’d address them before they’re asked. I don’t necessarily consider myself an ND proponent, though at one point I could’ve probably been described as such. But I’ve had the opportunity to traverse a number of different camps and find myself more prone to understanding the passion and positives of each one.

        I see the value in not perpetually treating another human being as a disorder and attempting to normalize their behaviors solely for the sake of society, but then I see no point in failing to help improve quality of life for people who may be suffering.

      • Don’t get me wrong, we cannot wind the clock back – I know that and would in no way propose it. But here my point is that in that era, pre nearly all jabs, autism was not known. That situation could be established today by removal of the causative factor – vaccines.
        A PC aspect I have not toyed with but it’s a shaky ground to ignore the issue. “Let’s continue this practice because a low percentage of the recipients obtain enhanced, if rather tunnel vision, intelligence. The majority, of course, will continue to suffer lifelong physiological damage”. I know some such taking PhDs. But this proposal is an unnecessary Russian Roulette – for these intellects not impacted by artificial stimulus (vaccines) will still flower and maybe with greater strength, and also without any of the rest of the range of vaccine associated ailments, as well. [VAA such as asthma, allergies, auto immune disorders, …..the list is loooong]

        Always, the picture broadens but without that vision you cannot address the issue. In fact I rather feel that without the broader vision one’s impact can be negative and the problem compounded.

        Here, have another slice of banana and apple cake with yer cuppa,

        Ciao.

  12. I know you’re a teacher, and, in my view, an excellent one. That’s evident by your presentations here to the general reader. But —just a thought ;^) —-perhaps one day you’ll consider taking up teaching your professional area interests to university students (graduate researchers or other university students) because it seems to me, I regret to say, your teaching talents, combined with your sharp reasoning skills (e.g. your para. N° 13, “There have been plenty of epidemiological studies. …Both sides have been … ” & etc.) are simply not found enough amoung _students_ –so where, I ask, are the teachers who’d have taught those students to be better critical analysts? I hypothesize that they are missing.

    If you couldn’t teach full-time perhaps you could teach at least part-time, while continuing research, because, while what you’re doing here is, I think, both excellent and needed, there’s also a need to reach those who are going to take up life-sciences careers in the laboratory and the classroom.

  13. I would actually enjoy teaching, although, as you mention, I would prefer to do so only part time. Research is definitely my passion and without feeling like I am “building ideas” and other constructs, as rewarding as I would undoubtedly find teaching, I would still feel something vital is missing from my life. Working with people can be exceptionally rewarding, but I draw my energy from working with ideas. It’s my own personal selfishness: to do something which is solely about making me happy.

    I would also like to write science books which can be approached by the layperson (feeding into my enjoyment of teaching and clarifying). That aspect of teaching, though outside a classroom, is most definitely on my agenda. But I would like to teach also. Rest assured, it’s definitely on my To Do list. 😉

    (And thank you for the support. The feedback is very welcome.)

  14. Thanks for the cake, greencentre! Lemme know what teas I should have on hand if you stop by again. I prefer strong black teas but I’m happy to keep a variety on hand. 😉

  15. Sullivan, re “We are now left with what I am admittedly simplifying to: “there is an immune component to some or much of autism. Vaccines affect the immune system. Therefore vaccines cause autism”.”

    Says who?? The facts are that there is an immune component to autism, and that vaccines affect the immune system, but of course those facts do not prove that vaccines cause autism. What they do prove is that we are in serious need of some serious biological science here. And as pD remarked, knowing what goes wrong and why on biological level will point to things that will help kids in the future.

  16. That was a great post Emily. Obviously I’m on the side that believes there IS a link between vaccines & autism …I see dramatic reactions from children when I give vaccines in homeopathic potency back to them as part of my treatment protocol, so that suggests to me there is a link. Thank you for being a rational open-minded scientist 🙂
    Alan

  17. Oops, me again. With Natasha I cannot but agree. The statement:
    “there is an immune component to some or much of autism. Vaccines affect the immune system. Therefore vaccines cause autism”
    is absurd.
    However as I hope I have clearly demonstrated, the clearest evidence is already there in abundance to demonstrate the profound impacts of vaccines on infant physiologies and, possibly less overwhelmingly, on adults as well. We cannot now waste time in creating in vitro laboratory models to describe these complicated interactions, which can have at best marginal relevance to this globally widespread problem. What is required is honest, objective assessment of the evidence we have and then a rebuilding of the healthcare system to accommodate this clear reality.

    • Anecdotal evidence is vitally important for informing the design of research studies in a case like this, but there are good reasons that decisions to drastically alter healthcare are based off of well-controlled science (ideally) and not anecdote. It’s also vitally important that such changes be carried out cautiously because, even though many people now would not remember it, inoculations do actually prevent other horrific diseases, some of them far worse than autism. Ironically in fact, several rubella outbreaks in the 1960s– the very virus for which part of the MMR is vaccinating against– were closely linked with increases in autism, mental retardation, schizophrenia, not to mention the usual slew of conditions like blindness. I am not advocating sudden change in healthcare protocol, which I hope the above article made clear enough, though there are probably some precautionary steps we can take like reducing the heavy vaccination load infants are given or even waiting to vaccinate until after 2 years. I am indeed advocating for the kind of research, greencentre, you feel we don’t have time for. I understand the need for hurry, however I’ve also been around enough to know that, even though people may feel absolutely certain they know precisely what is occurring, they may well be wrong. And it’s that science that you are so fervent we don’t have time for while which would help to clarify that. This is not an easy situation, and to go back to the days pre-inoculation when a person could expect that about half their children would die in the first few years of life due to one contagion or another… well, I’m not eager to head back in that direction either. We talk about doing things “naturally” but humans have only been living in HUGE communities, e.g., cities, for the last couple thousand years. This is how contagions are bred, through close contact. So one could also argue that living in such close confines with one another is not “natural”– not to mention the means we have now of travel and spreading those diseases. But it’s our current lot, so we must use the big brains we’ve been given to think up creative ways to reduce illness and fatalities which inevitably rise because of our way of life. One way is vaccination. But we need to learn our vaccine science better to figure out more accurately what are the risks versus the benefits.

      • Right. Now I do not propose retreat but progression. That’s what humans do.
        There is not “anecdotal evidence” to inform the design of research studies. There is a vast mass of evidence built up over 200 years but oh so accelerated in the last forty which is dismissed by the Medico-Industrial Complex, MIC , out of hand. And yet you pick out an ironic anecdotal tale to point to the “dangers of German measles”. Just the same scare tactics the MIC themselves use. I would suggest in that case that there could have been a pre-potentiation by prior vaccines which transformed what is normally a very mild illness into one so damaging. There is a long record of such instances, and I reckon SSPE is another.
        The twentieth century saw, for Europe, America and other more affluent areas, a steady and profound improvement in living standards – housing, cleanliness, diet etc. Concomitant with this, death rates of children from childhood illnesses fell dramatically. All this prior to vaccinations. [Smallpox , Jenner and subsequent government vaccination campaign disasters you can read up on. They form a very sorry saga. See Leon Chaitow’s “Vaccination and Immunisation”.] At the time vaccines were introduced, death from these illnesses in such countries was rare and even those rates were still falling. I had measles, mumps, chicken pox and possibly whooping cough as a kid and loved time off school and lots of care and attention.
        And so I developed strong, yes natural immunity for life and, yes, autism is for life too. Two weeks coddling versus a life sentence. Now which would one choose?
        Anyway I’m not doing anything other than react to drastic changes in the “health care” protocol. All the current jabs have been foisted upon us with no evidence as to their efficacy or as to their lack of immediate, short term or long term physiological damage. My suggestion is that there should indeed be research but to provide meaningful, objective assessments of the existing masses of evidence. In around 1960 immunologist/developmental biologist Sir Peter Brian Medawar, OM CBE FRS, (my Dad’s tutor, in fact!) stated that we had all the evidence to cure cancer – we just had to sort out what we’d got and link it all together properly. I’m sure he was right and the same is true here.
        Of course the mechanisms of immunogenesis are of deep, deep interest – individually, custom tailored DNA sequences and so much more cry out for further research. Ideally we must find out how we can maintain the natural sensitivities at optimal capacity. It’s no accident that illness often follows periods of great stress or intensive hard work.
        Communal living in big groups was clearly a serious issue in Victorian slums. Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ “Love in the Time of Cholera” depicts the same in South America. Cholera hit during economic recession, when resistance was low. But modern living conditions are so much improved and both diet and cleanliness are vastly better. (As I said before, this has allowed other issues like diabetes and obesity. My, we are stupid!)
        In fact I said that “We cannot now waste time in creating in vitro laboratory models to describe these complicated interactions, which can have at best marginal relevance to this globally widespread problem.” So we have models for optimal function and then for compromised. We demonstrate differences. We postulate mechanisms that could create the compromise.
        This is good research, but it will not inform the solution to a problem resulting from a process invented by a 19th century charlatan (Jenner) and assumed since his time to be the fundamental prerequisite to enable the natural, four billion year developed immune system to function.
        “We need to learn our vaccine science better”. Yes and these days you can take a degree in Vaccinology, I know. And “figure out what are the risks versus the benefits”. With methodologies such as used to test the MMR – by showing it had no worse an effect than other vaccines – there’s no chance this will be done. The MIC call the shots, find the money and tie it to the results which support their industry. It is naive to think otherwise.
        We need our immune systems to be keen and alert for any problems and not compromised by saturating them with a small group of antigens isolated from a small group of sometimes pathogenic organisms often many years ago and kept in culture, evolving, ever since. The science we should study is immunogenesis and not vaccinology as this latter assumes only one mode to develop one’s immune defences. And that mode is fatally flawed.

  18. I don’t believe in maintaining a status quo simply to avoid rocking the boat. Hopefully my post is some evidence of that. However, I also don’t believe in precipitous judgments when I can help it. I know you have read a LOT more on this topic than I have and I can only imagine what you’ve seen and what you’ve read have convinced you of your position. But so have the things I have seen and read in my lifetime. I am a cautious person. I don’t believe that vaccines should be done away with and see them as a greatly beneficial aspect of modern medicine. BUT I’m not so blind as to assume they are harmless under every circumstance. And those circumstances in which they may not be, I want those studied and well understood. This kind of understanding would help us apply them in moderation to avoid unwanted effects while maintaining their benefits, and at the same time aid in development of future vaccines (which are an inevitability, so they may as well be designed well and safely).

    I can see that my lack of full-fledged agreement with you is frustrating. I’m genuinely sorry I can’t give you the support you’re seeking beyond what I’ve offered. But at the same time, I’m equally frustrated you sound like you’re missing my point. Not a criticism, just an occasion in which two people such as ourselves are talking “at” each other more than “with”. Do I disagree with your approach to solve this issue? Yes– although not quite as much as opponents of further investigation would be. But then you disagree with mine also, so I suppose we’re even and no need to get emotional nor take it personally. 🙂

    • I don’t look for agreement, I look for openness and am impressed to find it when I do. Faith based science and faith based medicine I grew up thinking were long since gone. How naive!

      When I see a flawed argument I challenge it and provide counter evidence. In replying to your writing here I have sought to highlight illogical assumptions and their resultant derivations and to place logical, evidence based alternatives. I have seen none of them countered at all.

      It’s not personal – heaven forbid! But it is crucial for reasons of the Russian Roulette I outlined earlier (and that’s probably a good measure of the odds of damage here) but also because it has the mindset of removing responsibility for health maintenance from the individual. It’s all so archaic and voodoo. Not scientific at all!

      PS – I too would put a few smiles here but have no clue how to do it. Ciao and enjoy your medieval illness chat.

  19. Just use usually smilie text such as colons and parantheses.

    I feel like I’m generally open and I’m waiting for science-based investigation to guide my opinions. I respect your opinion considering such practices medieval but I definitely do not. For me, they lie at the heart of good analysis and reliable data. So I guess we’re just going to have to agree to disagree.

    • I know you keep an open mind – “Medieval” – is for your new chat about olde days illness.
      I do not call open, objective science medieval. For heavens sake, it’s what I do, so I could hardly slag it at the same time!
      Archaic and voodoo is descriptor for vaccine medicine – a faith based malpractice.

  20. I’m just curious what you would specifically proffer in lieu of vaccinations though. If you bring up the topic of antibiotics, I’m right there with you and think that better alternatives are available, such as further investigations into utilizing antagonistic organisms to fight off other infections (e.g., combinations of yeast and lactobacilli to combat clostridium, etc.). And while I can certainly fathom that vaccinations aren’t perfect and it’s a real balancing act trying to make an effective inoculation meanwhile not harming the patient, they have still prevented many illnesses, quite of few of which are potentially deadly. While I’m certainly a believer in not intervening with the job of the immune system unnecessarily, if the reaction is severe enough the immune system does kill people and some sort of preventative or treatment is ideal. It’s wonderful that you had mumps and didn’t have any apparent lasting effects, but not every person is as lucky. Same thing with a disease like rubella: there’s plenty of people who are asymptomatic, which is wonderful for them. But what about the infants born with CRS? Or the ones who aren’t born at all? People cry and scream over autism, but there are many more diseases than that. And on that topic, while I can also fathom vaccinations playing a role in some individuals’ etiology, there are a HUGE number of environmental effectors that, like another commenter had suggested, probably each play minor cumulative roles. I don’t look for a Holy Grail of autism but look for an entire web of effectors, each web varying by individual.

    Truthfully, I don’t like all-or-nothing solutions. Vaccinations used in moderation, yes. Vaccines done away with entirely, no. Why? Because I’m not personally familiar with a better alternative. If you can give me one, aside from just letting people get deathly sick, do please. I’m very eager to learn. While I’ve seen some of the usefulness of antibiotics fighting off infection, they’ve been horrifically overused but the wonderful thing is that alternatives are already being developed, utilizing the natural antagonism certain microbiota have with one another as the bacteriocidal means. But viruses? Not that I’m aware of. Letting the immune system just battle it out is not a better solution in my mind. For certain non-threatening illnesses, sure. But for illnesses which have high morbidity and mortality, no way. Nature isn’t perfect, the immune system isn’t perfect, and death is extremely common. Heritability makes up for it in numbers.

  21. Hi again Emily 🙂
    I recently stumbled across the large body of work by Prof Michal Schwartz and colleagues. Although they don’t appear to have published anything directly relating to autism, their whole body of work looks like it could have huge implications for our children, future treatment and prevention…

    Her 2010 ANU presentation entitled ‘The immune system is needed for shaping, protecting and healing the brain’ is available here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Wj7EX_mb20

    To quote a friend here “When you see how her research points to the immense effect the immune system has on the brain, it seems almost impossible that today’s intensive infancy immunization schedule does not have at least some effect on brain development, and possibly a huge effect.”

  22. Thanks for the additional information, Natasa. Yes, I agree that there is undoubtedly still much we don’t yet know about how the immune system interacts with the CNS during development and “raises it” in a sense.

  23. “Well, you can just call me a scientific stickler I guess, because to me epidemiological studies generally don’t answer questions but raise them and are meant to lead lab-based science in the directions it needs to go to answer those questions”
    Exactly. And the enormous and specific epidemiological studies addressing vaccines and autism don’t raise questions about causation and shouldn’t lead to “lab-based science” in any direction. No questions raised. The end. Based on your premise, we should just ignore all epidemiological studies or absence of relationship and go straight to offing mice and macaques. In fact, most of what you suggest here would be an enormous waste of time and energy invested (really? Testing the 1990s shot schedule or thimerosal exposure?) when far more promising data exist for other hypotheses.

  24. Sorry, Emily, but what you have done here is to try and present us with pseudoscience for the sake of “balance.” Epidemiology can prove things with mathematical certainty. No need to use gut feelings or subjective observations (e.g. “I saw my child regress shortly after the vaccine, thus the vaccine is bad.”). Take, for example, the many case-control studies carried out on a daily basis to investigate outbreaks of disease. We take cases (people with the disease) and controls (people without the disease) and we see if they had equal, mathematical odds of being exposed to what we think made them sick. It’s simple. If the odds are good and beyond a scientific threshold of random occurrence, we remove the exposure. John Snow did this in London in the 1800’s, and he stopped a cholera epidemic. We have done this with vaccines and see no reason to remove them. Even the alleged culpability of thimerosal has been disproven, and it was political influences, not scientific facts that removed thimerosal from vaccines.

    Furthermore, just because there is so much we don’t know doesn’t mean we need to know it to come up with a reasonable solution. This is kind of a straw man argument, and, if we allow that to be the norm by which we hold things to be evident and true… Well, God help us.

    Lastly, we cannot and will not do a randomized clinical trial of vaccines. Anti-vaccine parents will not be okay with their children having a 50/50 chance of being vaccinated. Likewise, parents who know vaccines work will not be okay with their children having a 50/50 chance of not being vaccinated. That introduces bias. Plus, you cannot ethically withhold vaccines from children when those vaccines have been previously proven to be safe and effective.

    But let me ask you this… What is your ideal trial or experiment to test whether vaccines cause autism or not?

    (By the way, nice pharma shill gambit in this comment: https://scienceoveracuppa.com/2013/03/03/vaccines-autism-epidemiology-a-call-for-better-science/comment-page-1/#comment-206)

  25. Hi, Reuben. To answer your question, keeping in mind my specialty and therefore my scientific leaning, would be to investigate various aspects of vaccination (single, multiple, issues with the antibiotic/antifungal agents which are sometimes used to preserve the vaccine) and its effects on development of different organ systems. Also, as has been suggested prior, testing on immune-susceptible animals. For myself, I am first and foremost interested to see if there are any significant effects on development in general. After which point, should anything arise, one could delve more into the specifics regarding autism– the latter a much more complicated attack given that autism is still only defined at the behavioral level and there is no characteristic acknowledged as universal.

    When one becomes experienced in lab-based science, it becomes clearer how small effects can easily be overlooked if the wrong tool for measurement is used. While I firmly believe that epidemiology is a prime first-round approach to public health concerns, it is not the place to stop. If there are small and/or complex effects, they may easily be washed out in epidemiological studies. It’s why we have lab-based science and don’t investigate all aspects of health via epidemiology. Liken it to viewing a problem with the naked eye; lab-based approaches could therefore be likened to using a high-powered microscope. Something which was invisible at the macroscopic level may become readily apparent when viewed more closely.

    Granted, that’s a metaphor and a bit of a logical fallacy for me to have used; however, the point I’m trying to make is that biology is exceptionally complex, and viewing issues at the population level may lose you important details. What may seem insignificant may turn out to be significant after all. Epidemiology must account for SO many variables increasing the risk of a false negative, whereas lab-based science has fewer variables and therefore allows better control for discerning cause and effect.

    • Natasa, sorry for the delayed reply. I’ve been out of country at a conference. I have heard vague rumblings of this but have not gone into it in detail. Thank you for the link; I’ll definitely need to read up more on the subject, since it sounds like something I’d be interested in following. I’ll wait to chime in until I read more on the topic though. Thanks!

  26. I fell out of this chat but will be drawn in again here. This guy, Thompson, is a pro vaccines researcher who has qualms of conscience over misrepresentation of data. He does not even try to extend the parameters of his confessional, merely constraining himself to a statement that is tantamount to a racist one. It is a very dangerous road to tread.

    Look at the worthless MMR comparison trials elsewhere, like those of Poul Thorsen, embezzler and sometime of the CDC employee.

    But I’ve suggested that before probably………so I’ll just end with a little something to go with your cuppa. Chew it slowly!

    http://bmeandothersciences.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/i-didnt-know-this-but/

  27. Emily,

    I appreciate that you distinguished the limitations of epi studies in the autism debate. As you point out, they cannot disprove the hypothesis no matter how the vaccine apologists repeat that they do that.

    As for the autism epi studies, you might be interested in a common flaw that can be found in all of them.

    It starts with the foundational work by CDC researchers Chen and Fine that demonstrates that if healthy user bias is not accounted for a study’s usefulness is lost:

    Confounding in Studies of Adverse Reactions to Vaccines
    http://vaccinepapers.org/wp-content/uploads/confounding_in_studies_of_adverse_reactions_to_vaccines.pdf

    Then a colleague noticed that none of the epi studies on autism account for this confounder:

    Healthy User Bias: The Fatal Flaw in Vaccine Safety Research
    http://vaccinepapers.org/healthy-user-bias-why-most-vaccine-safety-studies-are-wrong/

    At the same time, the biological science has advanced to the point that Patterson (formerly of Caltech) wrote, “Interleukin-6 is necessary and sufficient” to cause autism.

    Please see the full exposition of how brain inflammation from vaccination leads to over-expression of IL-6 and that leads to autism:
    http://vaccinepapers.org/part-1-immune-activation-autism/

    Cheers,
    André

    • Hi, Andre. That’s very interesting information, thanks for sharing that. I would, however, advise caution in saying “IL6 is a proven cause of autism” as the wording makes a simplistic statement about what is ultimately a very complex group of conditions. I do agree based on my review of related materials that pro-inflammatory cytokines are key potential risk factors in autism (IL1 is another cytokine of interest). So I have no qualms with that idea whatsoever and am in full support of it. But I would just caution about saying something is “a cause of autism,” since there are many acknowledged environmental risk factors, including various pharmacological agents, that provide significant risk but do not lead to autism in every case. Even major effect genes that lead to autistic symptomology in a majority of those with a given syndrome, only excruciatingly rarely do such mutations lead to autism in almost all cases (notable exceptions being CHD8 and ADNP mutations). But I agree that cytokines are probably a major culprit in autism severity and perhaps even incidence (though the latter hasn’t been addressed). And I don’t feel the studies to address such issues have been designed wisely and performed thoroughly. For instance, I’m not aware of any studies that have addressed the issue of severity, as opposed to incidence. On the other hand, I’m not a vaccine opponent either. I do feel they have saved many people since their inception. But I am most definitely a proponent of Smart Vaccination. I feel we need to get better at identifying at-risk groups and either altering vaccination schedules or avoiding all or specific vaccinations altogether. Thankfully, there are some notable immunologists who are currently working on a method for identifying these kinds of vulnerable subpopulations. Hopefully in the coming years that methodology will be available for use in pediatrics and this whole “vaccine debate” will be behind us.

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