Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Science and the alternative: Autism and immunization

Years ago, my wife and I wrote an article for the Journal of Family Practice (then a respectable academic journal) called Science and the Alternative. The point of the article was that it's hard to beat Science as a foundation for action. The results of internally consistent models that survive testable predictions are far from omnipotent, but science is light years ahead of every other method humans have used for understanding our universe.

That's why this is sad:
BBC NEWS | Health | Jabs link to autism 'dispelled'

... Jackie Fletcher, from campaign group Jabs, a support network for parents who believe their children have been damaged by vaccines, said the study still did not prove there was not a link.

"What we need, and what we have always called for, is a full and open review into the link so we cann establish once and for all what the truth is."
It's over Jackie. Give it up. When belief persists in the presence of contrary evidence it shades into delusion. Sure there's a chance that all the studies are wrong and that there's some connection between immunization and autism -- but after so many negative studies that's not fertile territory. Jackie and the immunization-autism die-hards are stuck panning for gold in a stream gone dry, surrounded by a vast and promising land. This persistence is harming our autistic children by draining resources and attention, not to mention harming all children by discouraging immunization.

Credit to my medical school for nice work, probably done on a shoestring budget:
... Mercury-based vaccines and MMR jabs do not lead to an increased risk of autism, a Canadian study says.

McGill University Health Centre looked at patterns between the development disorder and jabs in 28,000 children, the Pediatrics journal reported.

They found autism rates were higher in children given jabs after thimerosal was eliminated from vaccines and after MMR vaccination coverage decreased.

...This has come at a time when autism rates have been rising across the world.

Before the 1980s, one in 2,500 children was diagnosed as autistic, a developmental disability that affects the way a person communicates and interacts with others. Now the figure is closer to one in 250.

... The team found that after thimerosal was phased out in Quebec in 1996, the autism rate rose from 59.5 per 10,000 to 82.7 per 10,000.

And after MMR coverage fell in the late 1990s, the rate rose to 102.5 per 10,000 compared to 40.6 in the late 1980s.

Lead researcher Dr Eric Fombonne said: "There is no relationship between the level of exposure to MMR vaccines and thimerosal-containing vaccines and rates of autism.

.... And he added the rise in autism rates was likely to be caused by a broader definition of autism and greater awareness of the disorder...
I wish, I hope, I pray the Autism Society of America will read this study and drop their own immunization obsession. Inflexibility is a common autistic trait, now the parents who've fought this campaign can teach by example.

Why is autism increasingly diagnosed? Well, in Minnesota at least, you don't get much help in school if you're diagnosed with "mental retardation".

Renaming accounts for a lot of the growth in the diagnosis of "autism" and seemingly related disorders. There may be other causes, but we need much better science to characterize the atypical and/or dysfunctional brain. The first task in understanding is classification, and we have never had a reliable system for classifying neurodevelopmental disorders like autism and its siblings. The good news is that the science is coming.

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