Parents, I really need you, I need you right now. There are so many liars, they’re all working overtime, desperately trying to convince the public that we’re all crazy, the studies have been done, and everyone, for the nth freakin’ time, just needs to move on, and, for God’s sake, pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!
Or, if you’re Paul Offit, you just declare “the war is over.” Mission accomplished, baby, yowzer!
In case you’re wondering, I’m doing fine. I have actually had friends, good friends and “believers”, call me to offer their condolences to the rout they think we’re taking in the media right now. I really don’t care. This doesn’t impact my kids at all, I know what I know. It’s not like I make money doing this. My only goal in getting involved with autism activism was to warn other parents, and that’s what I’ll keep on doing. The amount of attention Deer and the BMJ have brought to this issue is unprecedented.
Parents aren’t stupid, they do their own research. For every one parent who just became falsely reassured that vaccines are totally safe, five just got worried and did more homework. We win, as usual, because we have truth on our side, and that’s just damn hard to beat!
That said, I want your help, fighting the haters. In particular, please, at every turn, challenge the idiots feeding the hungry lie, I hope a short history lesson will help. First, consider these many luminaries noursishing the hungry lie:
Dr. Paul Offit: "It's been asked and answered: Vaccines don't cause autism."
Amanda Peet, spokesperson for Sanofi Pasteur and Every Child By Two: "Fourteen studies have been conducted (both here in the US and abroad), and these tests are reproducible; no matter where they are administered, or who is funding them, the conclusion is the same: there is no association between autism and vaccines."
Dr. Nancy Minshew, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Excellence in Autism: "The weight of evidence is so great that I don't think that there is any room for debate. I think the issue is done. I'm doing this for all the families out there who don't have a child with autism, who have to deal with the issue of 'Do I get a vaccination or do I risk my child's life' because they don't understand what the science is saying."
Dr. Michael Katz, senior vice president for Research and Global Programs for the March of Dimes: "The implication that vaccinations cause autism is irresponsible and counter productive."
Dr. Renee Jenkins, former President of the AAP: "A television show that perpetuates the myth that vaccines cause autism is the height of reckless irresponsibility on the part of ABC."
Dr. Nancy Snyderman, medical correspondent for NBC: "Sixteen separate studies have shown no causal association [between vaccines and autism]."
The American Medical Association: "Scientific data overwhelmingly show that there is no connection between vaccines and autism."
Seth Mnookin, author, The Panic Virus: “When I started researching this book, I thought, the science is so clear. This should be straightforward.”
Lisa Jo Rudy, About.com Blogger: “And many, many studies make it clear that vaccines really couldn't possibly be the cause of an autism epidemic.”
Whew. I'm tired just typing all those quotes. If that's not a sign that there is "consensus" on an issue…I don't know what is.
What do we make of so many official people saying, and at times shouting, the same thing? The late Michael Crichton, himself an M.D., addressed this notion of a bunch of pedigreed people shouting the same lie, with a level of eloquence I could never summon:
"I want to pause here and talk about this notion of consensus, and the rise of what has been called consensus science. I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you're being had."
Birth of the Lie: 2004
We all know the year. We all know the organization. We all know the document. No document on earth has ever been more widely quoted, misquoted, represented, and misrepresented to prove, once and for all, that vaccines do not cause autism.
Because this document is so damn important, and because we know exactly when the document was released, we can be very clear about exactly when this very hungry lie was born: May 17, 2004.
Before I continue, I need to tell you something, and I really, really need you to listen. I'm going to quote a cliché, one that I have used many times, and is used so often that sometimes we may forget to reflect on its meaning, so please, take a moment and really think about this: The devil is in the details.
With that cliché now bouncing around in your head, let's look at the birth date of this very hungry lie when the Institute of Medicine released a document with the very official sounding name Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism. (HERE)
There it is. There's the very first lie. And, oddly enough, it's the title of the entire document. Stick with me on this, and remember the cliché I just mentioned to you. The title of the document is "Vaccines and Autism." To the average person, this would presume that the document explores the concept of whether or not vaccines cause autism.
But, it doesn't.
And, the study itself is far more honest than its own title. The study itself actually tells you what the IOM looked at and here it is, the IOM summary of what they actually looked at in the study they released on May 17, 2004:
"In this report, the committee examines the hypothesis of whether the MMR vaccine and the use of vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal can cause autism."
Wait a minute.
The world thinks the IOM considered whether or not vaccines can cause autism. There are 11 separately licensed vaccines given to children (I'm counting DTaP and MMR as one each, even though they are triple shots), many given multiple times. The IOM looked at only one of these vaccines, the MMR, and an ingredient found in many others, Thimerosal.
But, the hungry lie started that day, two months before my own son was diagnosed with autism. It started with a very odd and very contradictory piece of journalism by a writer from Reuters who seems to be more confused by the issue than most. This writer, Maggie Fox, reported on the IOM's document soon after its release, and her headline is clear enough:
VACCINE DOES NOT CAUSE AUTISM, PANEL SAYS
That's as clear and concise a version of the lie as you will ever see, although the use of the word "vaccine" rather than "vaccines" is odd. Within her own story, Ms. Fox goes on to explain what the IOM study actually did do, which contradicts her own headline:
"Neither the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine nor a mercury-based preservative used in some childhood shots cause autism, a U.S. health panel has found."
Hmm, that's weird. Even weirder is the quote she pulled out of Marie McCormick, the chairperson of the very IOM committee that issued the report that started the lie:
"The weight of that evidence is pretty substantial," said Dr Marie McCormick, an expert in child and mother health at the Harvard School of Public Health who chaired the panel. "The overwhelming evidence from several well-designed studies indicates that childhood vaccines are not associated with autism," she added.
Childhood vaccines are not associated with autism? That's quite a statement; particularly given the panel only contemplated two things: the MMR vaccine and an ingredient (mercury) in some vaccines. It's not just quite a statement; it's an unbelievably bold misrepresentation, which is a nice word for an enormous LIE.
I have noticed this trend a lot lately, where health authorities in positions of influence seem to bounce back and forth between representing honestly what research has actually been done and making sweeping statement of false reassurance.
Consider the curious case of Dr. Paul Offit, henchman for Merck and vaccine patent-holder and multi-millionaire. In an article in the New England Journal of Medicine several years ago, Dr. Offit spelled out the research fairly clearly:
"Fourteen epidemiological studies have shown that the risk of autism is the same whether children received the MMR vaccine or not, and five have shown that thimerosal-containing vaccines also do not cause autism."
Today, why bother with the details? It's much easier for Offit to say, "It's been asked and answered: Vaccines don't cause autism" and be done with it.
I wish I was done at this point, but the story actually gets a lot worse.
I'm now going to make a point, and this is without a doubt the most important point I'm making today, so I hope you can take just a little bit closer of a listen. As we all know, the IOM looked at many different studies regarding both Thimerosal and the MMR vaccine.
But, there is a point, and it's a point many of us think we know, but it's a point rarely discussed and a point so important that I think someday when they are piecing together how in the world the autism epidemic ever happened and how in the world such a big hungry lie was ever told for so long, I think this is the point they will make, so I'm going to make it first:
There isn't a single study contemplated by the IOM, or cited by any medical authority whether CDC, AAP, WHO, IOM, or ECBT, that compares anything EXCEPT vaccinated children.
How can that be? How can the IOM's document that tells the world that vaccines do not cause autism be resting on a foundation of studies that only ever looked at vaccinated children?
We need some analogies here:
That would be like looking at people who smoke one pack a day versus two packs a day and seeing no difference in lung cancer rates and saying cigarettes don't cause lung cancer.
That would be like looking at people who eat chocolate chip cookies with chocolate chips and chocolate chip cookies without chocolate chips and seeing no difference in obesity rates and saying cookies don't contribute to obesity.
That would be like looking at people who smoke low-tar cigarettes and people who smoke normal cigarettes and seeing no difference in lung cancer rates and saying cigarettes don't cause lung cancer.
Do I need to continue? When I explained this trick to my 11 year-old, he got it, so I hope you do, too. If you can look at these studies and say that vaccines do not cause autism, well, I think you make Foghorn Leghorn look like Chickenhawk.
Let's go back to Reuters for a second, because the article is terribly important, being the media's first brush with the lie and all. Let's look at what else Ms. Fox said back in 2004, seven long years ago, the first time the war ended, and vaccines no longer cause autism (even though they do):
"The panel, which included experts in paediatrics, family medicine, statistics and epidemiology, had reported in 2001 that there was no proven link between vaccines and autism but said there was not quite enough evidence to be definitive. Since then, they have reviewed five large epidemiological studies done in the U.S., the U.K., Denmark, and Sweden that found Children who were vaccinated with thimerosal-containing vaccines were no more likely to have autism than children who received thimerosal-free vaccines."
Five large studies done? OK. And, these studies were the ones that turned the tide, right? That's certainly what this writer appears to have learned from the IOM. Just for fun, let's actually look at the "new" studies that were contemplated by the IOM.
Not all five of them, but just for fun I'll pick two of the studies Ms. Fox is talking about, the one from the US and the one from the UK, published in 2003 and 2004, respectively. It’s important to pint out, even now, whether it’s Dr. Offit, or Seth Mnookin, or, Alison Singer, they are STILL pointing to these ridiculous studies and, I suppose, hoping no one really looks.
Before we look at these two studies, I need to make another point: the majority of studies that authorities point to as proof that vaccines do not cause autism have been published in a journal called Pediatrics. As Pediatrics will tell you, they are the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. As we know, the AAP is a trade union for pediatricians with two unfortunate truths:
- The AAP derives a majority of their outside contributions (estimated at more than $25 million per year) from pharmaceutical companies who make vaccines
- The very people the AAP represents, pediatricians, derive the majority of their annual revenues from the administration of vaccines to children
Do you think that's a coincidence?
CDC Study, the one that just “won't go away”
The first of the two studies I'll look at, the one that most people cite as the definitive work that vaccines do not cause autism, was published in Pediatrics in November 2003 and was written by the CDC by a lead researcher named Thomas Verstraeten. I
It's called Safety of Thimerosal Containing Vaccines: A Two-Phased Study of Computerized Health Maintenance Organization Databases.
To say that much has been written about this study is like saying much has been written about Paris Hilton’s love life – it's always an understatement.
So, I'm just going to make two points about this study, two points that will show you how big this lie has really become:
1. The study's authors, after analyzing the only data ever run on American children (data that was later lost by the CDC), concluded that they couldn't prove anything either way. Their study was simply inconclusive. Not positive, not negative. Just neutral. After the press and vaccine talking heads tried to turn the study into the first evidence of the very big lie, the study's lead author, that same guy Verstraeten, wrote a desperate letter to Pediatrics because he was distraught at how his study--the one he was the lead author for--was being misused:
"Surprisingly, however, the study is being interpreted now as negative [where 'negative' implies no association was shown between Thimerosal and autism] by many...The article does not state that we found evidence against an association, as a negative study would. It does state, on the contrary, that additional study is recommended, which is the conclusion to which a neutral study must come...A neutral study carries a very distinct message: the investigators could neither confirm nor exclude an association, and therefore more study is required."
It's hard to imagine a second point actually worse than the point I just made, the point that one of the most famous studies routinely held up to support the position that "vaccines don't cause autism" actually reached no decision at all. But, it does get worse.
2. Like every study the IOM considered in reaching their conclusion, and like every study ever cited by anyone defending the vaccine program, this study only looked at children who had been vaccinated.
If that wasn't bad enough, the authors actually went a step further. Because there were so few children available who had received vaccines without Thimerosal, they actually compared children who had received MORE Thimerosal with children who received LESS Thimerosal to try and reach a conclusion.
In point of fact, this "large-scale" study, as it's so often portrayed by the media, evaluated a total of exactly 223 children with autism, all of whom had been vaccinated, and over 80% of whom had received vaccines with 87 or more micrograms of mercury.
Man, I'm really tired of talking about these details. If you think it's hard reading this lengthy piece, try writing it. In fact, it's the painful nature of these pesky details that makes the lie so easy to feed and perpetuate. Who really reads this shit? No one, I think.
In fact, I have a little secret to tell you: I have actually read every single study the IOM based their conclusions on and every study the other side claims supports their case through to this day. I may be the only human being on earth (except perhaps Bernadine Healy, Mark Blaxill, and Dan Olmsted) who has actually done this.
How am I so sure? I'm not, really. I just know it took me several hours and several hundred dollars to even get all the studies together in one place. You see, many of the actual studies are not freely available online for the average journalist to find, you have to buy them from the websites of the journals.
Testing this hypothesis a step further, I asked a journalism friend of mine to ask Every Child By Two if they had copies of all the studies they cite on their website that prove vaccines don't cause autism. Surely they had copies and had read them all…surely? Here's what he heard back:
Unfortunately we do not have copies of all of the studies available. I would suggest that if you check the main library at [your school]. They often get these journals even though your school doesn't have a medical or nursing program and you can copy what you need. Some may also be available online.
Rich Rich Greenaway Director of Operations and Special Projects Every Child By Two
Nope, even ECBT doesn't have the studies; they just speak authoritatively about the conclusions of studies they've never actually read… (author’s note: my email exchange with Rich took place in 2008)
The "British" Study – Am I on Neptune?
When I finally read this lengthy beast, cover to cover, all 7 pages of it, I only had one conclusion: Am I living on fucking Neptune?
You see, if you think the CDC study I just told you about is a shaky foundation for building a hungry lie, then the British study is the foundation of a thousand year old clay shack in the Sichuan Province during a 9.0 earthquake.
Like all studies, the UK study has a very official sounding name, and one I will repeat so I can be as clear as possible:
Thimerosal Exposure in Infants and Developmental Disorders: A Prospective Cohort Study in the United Kingdom Does Not Support a Causal Association
Wow, that's an earful. Oddly, like few other studies I have seen, the title includes the conclusion of the study, albeit a deceitful representation of the actual conclusion.
This UK study is such junk, it's really hard to write about. I imagine a journalist trying to read this study for the first time, and probably struggling with what the hell was actually done, sort of like a monthly statement from Bernie Madoff, and falling back to just reading the title again and hoping for the best. Yet, after reading the study enough times, I was able to actually figure out what had been done, and I'll start by quoting you from the authors' own summary of what they did, from the Methods section of the study on page 577 of Pediatrics in September 2004:
"The study has been monitoring >14 000 Children who are from the geographic area formerly known as Avon, United Kingdom, and were delivered in 1991–1992. The age at which doses of thimerosal-containing vaccines were administered was recorded, and measures of mercury exposure by 3, 4, and 6 months of age were calculated and compared with a number of measures of Childhood cognitive and behavioral development covering the period from 6 to 91 months of age."
OK, I know. You have no idea what that means, I certainly didn't. So, I will use the kind of English most of us can understand so you can see how amazingly unbelievable this study really is:
- 100% of the children in this study were vaccinated
- 100% of the children in this study were vaccinated with the thimerosal-containing DTP vaccine
- If you were a child who hadn't completed the full series of thimerosal-containing DTP shots, which in Britain is 3 doses, you weren't even in the study
- The only variable considered, and I'm going to put ONLY in all-caps so you really hear me, the ONLY variable considered was the TIMING of the 3 doses of thimerosal-containing DTP vaccines given to kids
- And, when I say timing, what I mean is they compared kids who had gotten these shots by 3 months, 4 months, and 6 months That's it.
The timing of thimerosal-containing shots was explored. The authors are actually honest about this in their own conclusion to the study:
"This study, based on a large United Kingdom–based prospective cohort, shows no evidence of any harmful effect of an accelerated immunization schedule with thimerosal-containing vaccines."
There it is, clear as day: an accelerated schedule of TCVs. TIMING is the only variable this study considered.
One side point, for those of you who noticed. The IOM study came out in May 2004. This study was published in Pediatrics in September 2004, four months later. What gives? What gives is that the AAP did an excellent job of getting a crap study in front of their friends at the IOM to give them more ammunition to birth the hungry lie.
Parents, I could go on, please don’t make me. Just do me a favor, challenge these idiots. Challenge them to defend their sweeping generalizations with facts. The facts all fall to our side. They have no science, they know it, so when a Brain Deer comes along, they just pounce, and hope we all go away. Will you?
(author’s note: I have pulled some words here from previous posts I have written for AoA)
J.B. Handley is the father of a child with autism, the co-founder of Generation Rescue, and a contributing writer for AoA.