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← Autism and Vaccines: Why Bad Logic Trumps Science

Autism and Vaccines: Why Bad Logic Trumps Science - Comments

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 1 by Apathy personified

Out of pure curiousity,
Has the incidence level of autism varied with the reduction in the number of MMR jabs given?

That seems like a crucial fact, but it doesn't seem to be mentioned.

public health policy must be guided by science instead of celebrity - or even personal experience.
Well, that would be nice.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 07:19:00 UTC | #230852

jt512's Avatar Comment 2 by jt512

Apathy personified wrote:

Out of pure curiousity,
Has the incidence level of autism varied with the reduction in the number of MMR jabs given?

That seems like a crucial fact, but it doesn't seem to be mentioned.

It seems to me, that you have just fallen for the same logical fallacy discussed in the article.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:16:00 UTC | #230868

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 3 by Apathy personified


It seems to me, that you have just fallen for the same logical fallacy discussed in the article.

In no way have i said i agree with the morons who think that the MMR jab causes autism - you can now apologise for trying to put words into my mouth.

I was merely asking why nobody mentions the incident rate of autism since the number of people taking the jab has decreased - i have no idea what that answer is, that's why i asked the question, i think it would be interesting to know.

If there is no change (which is what my money is on), then it kinda destroys their whole argument about MMR causing autism - so why is this not mentioned (well, i certainly haven't seen it mentioned - though that could be down to a lack of exposure to relevant materials on my part) as part of the proof that the vaccine is safe in this respect?

Edit: Added comment for clarity.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:24:00 UTC | #230871

chewedbarber's Avatar Comment 4 by chewedbarber

Doctors tell their patients autism is triggered by vaccines, why wouldn't people believe their doctor?

Are pediatricians being influenced by Jenny McCarthy?

It seems almost silly to blame this one on the celebs. :P

This issue shows why public health policy must be guided by science instead of celebrity â€" or even personal experience.

And also not by a number of doctors.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:29:00 UTC | #230873

entheogensmurf's Avatar Comment 5 by entheogensmurf

"But why do many people continue to believe that there is a link despite overwhelming evidence? The answer is something that has more credibility than the best scientific study: personal experience."

While I agree, this next babble is directed in other areas where people cast away research/evidence at times (in my opinion of course) or at least slow to accept the information:
At least here in the USA, we have been lied to enough that it can be difficult for many to trust in the evidence coming from research. The "cooking of stats," half truths, research funded to get specific results regardless of what is actually found, and other niceties.
When I look at an article that provides research results... what do I do? I try and hunt down the actual source and attempt, in my laypersons mind, to see if what is being reported appears accurate. This is more to see if the article reporting the research didn't parse through their own agenda.

Then, I attempt to find other sources that provide at least some validity and credibility to the org/group that conducted the research.

I recall the tobacco companies funding research that later was found to be a tad biased/skewed :)

If you ever read up on a huge foul up by Ricaurte (he blames the company that sent him the supplies), where his research revealed that MDMA caused "dopaminergic depletion and can lead to Parkinson's disease." Later, retracting as a result that it was meth and not MDMA ;)

As I said above though, I agree with the conclusion of "personal experience." It's hard to shake for some if not many.
I imagine exposure and acceptance to the concepts of critical thinking would help immensely.

I shall also present a personal experience of my own, where I saw at first hand how powerful "personal experience" can be to a mind:
Around the age of 12 or so, a buddy of mine, who had almost no exposure to non-white (I refer only to the color of skin, as I'm 1/3 Native American but appear "white") humans.
His first up close experience was... dun dun dun dunnn...
Being chased down by a group of very dark skinned kids who beat the crap out of him for being "a cracker" or something silly.

He started to rant about nigger this and nigger that (previously he wasn't really hateful towards anyone)... That they are animals, etc... and actually carried a near instant hatred of black skinned chaps.

I tried to reason with him (in my 12 year old way) that it's beyond sick and wrong to judge a "race" by the actions of some. Even presenting the times white kids in a group had picked on us...

In fact, over the years, we of course had good and bad experiences with every variance of skin color/race.

We of course (sadly), were exposed to adults who were openly racist (at least around white skinned people) towards blacks -- perhaps reinforcing his bigotry. Odd enough, his parents were the epitome of hippies (free spirited, equality minded, blah blah); yet this didn't sway him either when they attempted to explain that hating a race by the actions of a few or even many is wrong/faulty reasoning.

Yet, it persisted in his mind to be hateful to blacks by default -- simply by that initial experience. I don't know if he's still that way now as we parted ways long ago.

Anyways, it's nice to see the new research. Researchers are sexy, provided they are honest.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:37:00 UTC | #230875

John Desclin's Avatar Comment 6 by John Desclin

on july 25, 2008, I already posted - on another thread ("How anecdotal evidence...") two links pointing to hilarious examples of this fallacy by distinguished professors.( post # 218163).
It seems that people don't learn...

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:38:00 UTC | #230876

Dr. Strangegod's Avatar Comment 7 by Dr. Strangegod

Apathy, your question implied an assumption of causation, because even if the answer was 'yes', it would still only be a correlative factor that needs to be tested. jt512's comment was rightly made, even if it did not exactly give you the benefit of the doubt. Relax. We needn't be so quick to anger or offense.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:43:00 UTC | #230877

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 8 by mordacious1

The link between autism and thimerosal/mmr vaccines has been studied intensively. Thimerosal was the easiest to dismiss, just remove it and see what happens. Diagnosed cases have actually increased as thimerosal use has decreased. MMR vaccines were more difficult to rule out. The idea here is that some children have GI problems that make them predisposed to having bad reactions when given the MMR all at once, instead of separately. This was supposed to affect 25% of autistic children. When studied, there was no increase with kids who got MMR or M , M, and R.

It appears to be coincidental that the vaccines are given at the time that MOST people recognize the signs of autism. The solution might be to train OB staff and pediatricians to recognize early signs of autism. This also helps decrease the affects that autism has on the child (early intervention).

[edited to add pediatricians]

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:44:00 UTC | #230879

SteveN's Avatar Comment 9 by SteveN

For many years, the anti-vaxxers claimed that it was the presence of the organomercury-based preservative thiomersal in the vaccine that was causing autism. Despite there being no credible evidence that this was true, the CDC recommended the removal of thiomersal at the turn of the century 'to be on the safe side', which was perversely taken as proof by the anti-vaxxers that they were correct. Since then, the rates of diagnosed autism have continued to rise, a fact they conveniently fail to mention. Like the article suggests, logic is not their strong point.

Edit: I see that Mordacious1 beat me to it by one minute!

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:45:00 UTC | #230880

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 10 by Apathy personified

Ok - So instead of 'crucial fact' i should have put 'interesting statistic that should be investigated'?

Fair enough.

I apologise if my reply was out of line and too aggressive.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 08:55:00 UTC | #230883

jt512's Avatar Comment 11 by jt512

"Apathy personified" wrote:

[I wrote:]
It seems to me, that you have just fallen for the same logical fallacy discussed in the article.
How? In no way have i said i agree with the morons who think that the MMR jab causes autism.... I was merely asking why nobody mentions the incident rate of autism since the number of people taking the jab has decreased... i think it would be interesting to know.

It might be "interesting," but originally you called it a "crucial fact." In fact, it is not crucial because, as the article explains, "[T]wo events that appear to be causally related may not be; there are other possibilities. The appearance of causation may simply be coincidence.... Only carefully controlled scientific studies can conclusively tell the difference."

That is the crucial fact, and a major point of the article. It would require carefully controlled studies to determine the relevance of any observed relation (or lack of relation) between the incidence of autism and the incidence of MMR injection, so what would be the point in reporting it?

On the other hand, epidemiologists have already conducted carefully controlled studies that have shown that the vaccine does not cause autism. But you are suggesting that weak correlational evidence be presented to support a conclusion arrived at by strong, controlled studies. That contradicts a major point that the article is trying to convey.


Sun, 07 Sep 2008 09:07:00 UTC | #230887

WilliamP's Avatar Comment 12 by WilliamP

The misunderstanding is made worse by high-profile, non-scientific claims by activists linking vaccines to autism (model and actress Jenny McCarthy, for example, appeared on "Larry King Live" earlier this year accusing medical doctors of ignorance of the facts and hiding evidence).
It's really sad when people will listen to someone who argues from the perspective of personal experience and the authority that comes with being famous for taking off her bra on camera.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 09:32:00 UTC | #230890

Bonzai's Avatar Comment 13 by Bonzai


Actually Ap's idea involve varying MMR jabs and see whether it has an effect on incidents of autism. If there is, it would be a strong evidence to suggest that there might be causal relationship provided others possible factors are properly controlled for. This is not the same as just looking at correlation because you can decide independently the jabs being administered. This is crucial.

This is how causality is established in laboratory experiments (with proper control).

But controlled experiments are often not feasible in epidemiological studies so instead they massage the data to account for interactions and confounding. One way to establish causality statistcally is indeed to look at different levels of correlations and take into account things such as temporal ordering of events, methods based on this idea include exploratory path analysis and SEM (structural equation modeling) Now all these are open to criticism because if controlled experiment cannot be done and a theory is absent there is no fool proof way to establish causality. But Ap has the right idea.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 09:45:00 UTC | #230894

Apathy personified's Avatar Comment 14 by Apathy personified


But you are suggesting that weak correlational evidence be presented to support a conclusion arrived at by strong, controlled studies
I never said, or implied that - so i don't know why i'm responding at all, as i'm discussing things i've never said.

An article mentions a debate about whether there's a correlation between two things; one of them has changed, i ask if the other one has also changed (although in this case i expect it hasn't) - that's all it was, just a simple question.

Contrary to what you are implying about me, i'm not trying to undermine the scientific endeavour of the researchers who've provided us with the strong controlled studies by saying,
'Hey, pay attention to this weakly correlated evidence over here and ignore everything else!'

Thanks Bonzai. Although, to be honest, i wasn't even going that far (but thanks for crediting me with a good idea though :)) - i was just curious as to whether there has been any change in the incidence of autism in the last few years since the proportion of kids getting the MMR jab has decreased since this 'scare' was brought up. I didn't mean to imply (i don't think i did) that any change would be necessarily linked to the MMR jab.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 09:47:00 UTC | #230895

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 15 by mordacious1

Re: Jenny McCarthy

Yes, I always get my scientific information from former Playboy Playmates of the Year (NOT!).

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:04:00 UTC | #230899

WilliamP's Avatar Comment 16 by WilliamP

About this debate going on here on causation, I think correlation is important here, as Apathy has pointed out. I don't know what it means to say that scientists have proved that there is no link between vaccines and autism, if they have no evidence that there is no correlation.

Correlation, as the article discuses, is not a sufficient condition for causation. When A correlates with B, then that's not enough to say that A causes B or vice versa.

Causation is, however, a necessary condition for causation. When you have causation between A and B, then the two must correlate. When A and B do not correlate, assuming all other things are equal (as in a scientific experiement), then that is sufficient to say that there is no causation.

I suspect that the studies conducted found such a lack of correlation between vaccinations and autism. I imagine that is what was meant by saying that the studies have shown that there is no causation.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:10:00 UTC | #230900

jt512's Avatar Comment 17 by jt512


You have grossly misread AP's post. He was not suggesting that controlled experiments be run, but rather, that the observed incidence of autism be compared with the observed incidence of MMR vaccination. That is not only correlational data, it is worse: it is correlation between summary statistics, which compounds the temporal fallacy with the ecologic fallacy (that correlation between summary statistics is due to correlation at the individual level).

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:18:00 UTC | #230904

markg's Avatar Comment 19 by markg

According to this article:
a record number of children were vaccinated last year. So apparently not so many parents are anti-vaccine as it may seem... at least here in the U.S.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:26:00 UTC | #230907

bugaboo's Avatar Comment 18 by bugaboo

Can children (or for that matter adults) who were not vaccinated at the usual age be vaccinated now?
(i dont see any reason why they shouldnt)

I ask this question since a lot of parents refused vaccination at the time of the controversy and may now wish they had went ahead.

It seems to me that there should be another campaign to have these older children vaccinated in light of the inreased risk of infection together with the debunking of the original scare.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:26:00 UTC | #230906

RainDear's Avatar Comment 20 by RainDear

I would love Jenny McCarthy to go on Larry King and accept some responsibility on the consequent cases of measles, mumps and rubella, as well as the meningitis, sterility and fetal injuries a number of these cases lead to.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:28:00 UTC | #230909

jt512's Avatar Comment 22 by jt512

AP wrote:

An article mentions a debate about whether there's a correlation between two things; one of them has changed, i ask if the other one has also changed (although in this case i expect it hasn't) - that's all it was, just a simple question.

No, the article does not mention a debate about whether there is a correlation between vaccination and autism. It says that correlation does not prove causation; that well-controlled studies have shown that vaccination does not cause MMR.

You then ask why the author did not present statistics on whether there has been a change in the incidence of autism following a decrease in the incidence of vaccination. I think that my second sentence in the preceding paragraph answers that question. Do you see that such a statistic would be exactly the type of datum that the article is arguing against? Presenting such a statistic would be inconsistent with the author's argument.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:50:00 UTC | #230912

Philrt's Avatar Comment 21 by Philrt

There is another reason beyond personal experience that causes this reaction. It is fear.

As the father of a child classified Autistic at 21 months I can tell you first hand the fear factor. It wasn't long ago that there was a doctor pushing the theory that autistic children were the result of 'refrigerator' parents. The fear that you may have a child that will never relate to you emotionally and that you may even be blamed for it makes the opportunity to blame the medical establishment very sexy. Now that I've had time to investigate more of the data, I have been working on the difficult task of getting my wife to allow my daughter to receive vaccines. She is still engulfed in the fear. I may soon just have to have it done, without her consent. That may set off a real firestorm.

On the positive side (if anyone is interested) my daughter has been doing well. Probably may never know what did it or if she just outgrew it because of the scatter-shot approach we took. But when your child is drowning one rarely stops to take a survey of experts on best how to save them.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 10:50:00 UTC | #230911

William Kaiser's Avatar Comment 23 by William Kaiser

Well... to lighten the mood a little with a dark suggestion... ;-)

I suggest that parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated with MMR and other vaccines should instead have them vaccinated with HOMEOPATHIC vaccines!

Wouldn't that be a kick in the ass. The autism rate would remain the same and the rate of communicable diseases would rise. How would the Homeopaths explain that scenario?

Now folks, before you go apeshit on me, I said it was a dark suggestion! I'm sort of pitting two idiotic ideas against each other in which everyone loses.


P.S. Hey, I said it was a joke in poor taste didn't I? ;-)

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 11:11:00 UTC | #230917

King of NH's Avatar Comment 24 by King of NH

I think Apathy personified made a very valid point. In the main article it was not made clear what study was used. He simply asked about one of the correlative studies that may have been used or might have been not studied for various reasons.

The correlation IS a crucial fact, jt512. Facts are the little pieces that make up an argument, and this would be one of those little pieces. The correlation does not equal causation is an important rule.

Asking for more scientifically gathered data on something is not rejecting science, it's doing science. Don't attack people for refusing to take science's word for it, they shouldn't. None of us should. They tell me the world is round. I say, "Prove it." They prove it.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 11:25:00 UTC | #230925

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 25 by mordacious1


Welcome to the site. Have you tried this:

My wife and I did this before it was a developed therapy, it seemed like common sense. I think it is very effective if done at a young age.

[edit] As I stated earlier, the key to helping these children reach their potential is early diagnosis and intervention.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 11:37:00 UTC | #230929

ThoughtsonCommonToad's Avatar Comment 26 by ThoughtsonCommonToad

Peet: 'Actors' Medical Influence A Sad Fact'

5 August 2008 11:59 AM, PDT | From | See recent WENN news

Latest: Actress Amanda Peet is continuing her campaign against parents who refuse to vaccinate their children, by urging the public to ignore medical advice from celebrities.

Just weeks after sparking controversy by dubbing such parents "parasites", the new mum is standing up to stars like Jenny McCarthy and Charlie Sheen, who have used their status to vocally oppose vaccinations.

During an appearance on U.S. TV show Good Morning America on Tuesday, Peet begged parents to listen to experts before deciding whether to immunise their kids - and not rely on the advice of celebrities.

She said, "I'm not a doctor, which brings me to another point. It seems like the media is often giving celebrities and actors more authority on this issue than they're giving the experts and that's a sad fact.

"And I know that's a paradox - that's part of why I wanted to become a spokesperson, so I could say, 'Please don't listen to me, don't listen to the actors, go to the experts.'"

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 12:23:00 UTC | #230937

Philrt's Avatar Comment 27 by Philrt

Thank you mordacious, its a pleasure to be here.

Yes, we've done a lot of the Greenspan stuff at home as well as speech therapy, occupational therapy and a host of other items much of which was probably crap. But when a doctor looks at you and, with a very uninterested tone, tells you that there is nothing you can do, you start searching.

And yes I agree, early intervention seems to be critical.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 12:23:00 UTC | #230938

chewedbarber's Avatar Comment 28 by chewedbarber

I suggest that parents who refuse

In the US it is illegal to refuse.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 12:49:00 UTC | #230947

Philrt's Avatar Comment 29 by Philrt

Depends on your state chewedbarber.

I guarantee you that it is legal here in Oklahoma to refuse.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 13:13:00 UTC | #230957

mordacious1's Avatar Comment 30 by mordacious1


Don't give up hope. Our autistic son is now a junior in high school and is at best "hanging in there". It is a 24/7/365 job though. I hope you have positive extended family support that can give you some relief, unfortuately we had none. That makes it harder. Good luck to you.

ps. My son just had a meltdown because he burned his finger on a pizza bagel. Those meltdowns get scary once they're 6'2.

Sun, 07 Sep 2008 13:21:00 UTC | #230959