Monthly Archives: March 2015

Anti-Vaxxer Craziness #

Sometimes, people are stupid. Our sensationalist (and often scientifically clueless) media doesn’t help matters.

Back in January, Kottke collected a handful of links about how schools are dealing with anti-vaccine nutters, including banning students who never got measles vaccinations (there was a local outbreak at the time). My favorite line: “If my kid can’t bring peanut butter to school, yours shouldn’t be able to bring preventable diseases.”

Last week, a blog sponsored by Boy Scouts of America posted a somewhat tongue-in-cheek admonition for scouts to be properly vaccinated. The anti-vax crowd descended in force, claiming “extensive scientific evidence” supporting such a link (nope!), and down-voting anyone disagreed with their crack-pot fringe misinterpretations of science.

(Do I feel strongly about this? Why, yes, yes I do. As the parent of a kid who at times had a very compromised immune system, I sympathize with parents in similar plights. Yes, if one has a legitimate religious objection, that’s one thing, but if a parent doesn’t vaccinate because of fears of autism linkage, they’re just wrong.)

So, I ended up going down the rabbit hole. Because someone is wrong on the Internet.

Scientific Research

First, there is extensive evidence that vaccines are not linked to autism. It is the strong consensus of the scientific community.

To list just a few:

  • Taylor B., et al. (1999) “Autism and measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine: no epidemiological evidence for a causal association” The Lancet (353:9169), 12 June 1999, pp. 2026–2029. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(99)01239-8 (Sample size 498 persons with autism.)
  • Frank DeStefano, Robert T Chen. “Negative association between MMR and autism” The Lancet (353:9169), 12 June 1999, pp 1987–1988 doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(99)00160-9 (These Lancet articles were both early responses to the original claim.)
  • Flaherty, D. K. (2011) “The Vaccine-Autism Connection: A Public Health Crisis Caused by Unethical Medical Practices and Fraudulent Science” Annuals of Pharmacotherapy (45:10) pp. 1302–1304 doi:10.1345/aph.1Q318 (Key quote: “The alleged autism-vaccine connection is, perhaps, the most damaging medical hoax of the last 100 years.”)
  • DeStefano, F, et al. (2013) “Increasing Exposure to Antibody-Stimulating Proteins and Polysaccharides in Vaccines Is Not Associated with Risk of Autism” Journal of Pediatrics pp. 561–567 pdf (Perhaps the biggest, most authoritative study, conducted, in part, by the CDC. Sample size of more than 3,000.)

Other articles of interest:

Some History

The “anti-vaxxing” controversy started with Andrew Wakefield, via an article published in The Lancet in 1998. The article was later thoroughly discredited. Journalist Brian Deer demonstrated that in addition to poor methodology, Wakefield also falsified many of his findings in the study based on only 12 (yes, twelve) patients and minor temporal association (stuff happened close together, but one did not necessarily cause the other). Contrast that with many studies since with hundreds or thousands of patients that show no link. It was also discovered that Wakefield’s undisclosed agenda was to support a lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers. One by one, the paper’s co-authors withdrew their support for the paper and its conclusions, and the paper was officially retracted by the journal in 2010.

In addition to forging data, other problems with Wakefield’s sample included undisclosed familial ties between 2 of the 12 patients (they were brothers), mis-representing autism diagnoses for at least 3 patients, not disclosing that parents of one patient were active campaigners against the MMR vaccine, incorrectly describing developmentally delayed patients as “previously normal”, and parents of another were blaming vaccination. (See, e.g., Brian Deer, “How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed”, 6 Jan 2011)

In any case, the whole of “scientific evidence” claimed by ant-vaxxers in top, peer-reviewed medical journals rests on Wakefield’s single article about 12 patients, data for most of was fraudulently altered. No study since has been able to replicate those findings. (There is another paper, also retracted for error of data, which anti-vaxxers cling to. Snopes has a takedown of that claim.) To the contrary, multiple credible studies, each with thousands of participants have demonstrated no observable statistical link.

(See also, Goodlee, F. “Clear evidence of falsification of data should now close the door on this damaging vaccine scare”)

So, can we please stop believing there is no evidence against an autism–vaccine link? Study after study has been unable to find a link, or has significant statistical results demonstrating no link.

Pretty please?


For LDS readers: The LDS Church has officially endorsed vaccinations for more than 35 years (according to a 1978 letter from the First Presidency letter; “We urge members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to protect their own children through immunization.”, Spencer W. Kimball, from “Immunize Children, Leaders Urge”) In 2003, the Church donated $3 million to fund measles/MMR vaccinations through its Humanitarian Services Division, and continues to provide millions in funding for pro-vaccination initiatives. (“Church Makes Immunizations an Official Initiative, Provides Social Mobilization”, Church News, 13 June 2012)

Another Link Roundup #

Once again, it’s time to reclaim some browser tabs.

  • “Police Investigate Family for Letting Their Kids Walk Home Alone” by Hanna Rosin at Slate. The parents were visited at home by officers who drove the kids a half-mile home. Rosin writes, “The police asked for the father’s ID, and when he refused, called six patrol cars as backup. Alexander went upstairs, and the police called out that if he came down with anything else in his hand ‘shots would be fired,’ according to Alexander. … The following week the police and [Child Protective Services] workers questioned the children at school without the parents’ permission, …” Read the article. These sound like very conscientious parents trying to do good things for their children despite governmental meddling.
  • More recently (Feb 20th), the same parents received notice that CPS determined the parents were responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect”, which is a somewhat oxymoronic finding that permits CPS to continue monitoring for several years. (Donna St. George, “‘Unsubstantiated’ child neglect finding for free-range parents”, Washington Post, 2 March 2015.) (via NextDraft)
  • Retraction Watch has an article on the consequences of late retractions, and does slight coverage of several measles outbreaks that might have been prevented if the much-discredited autism-vaccine paper in Lancet (1998) had been retracted earlier. (It wasn’t retracted until 2010, when an investigative journalist was able to conclusively demonstrate important data on a majority of the 12 cases studied had been withheld from reviewers or fraudulently altered.) More on this later.
  • FiveThirtyEight covered an education research paper that argues “Elementary school gifted-and-talented programs are most effective when students are selected based on high test scores rather than high IQ. Low-income and minority students experienced particularly large gains.”
  • Most Major League Soccer players make close to the minimum salary ($36,500 for players under 25; $48,500 for “senior” players), according to the New York Times.
  • A great “What If?” article at led to an interesting, if somewhat macabre look at “A History of Tug-of-War Fatalities”
  • Kottke links to a physics blog that discusses current paradoxes in modern cosmological physics, “i.e. areas where theory and observation disagree, sometimes by a whopping 120 orders of magnitude”
  • Lastly, Mary Elise Sarotte wrote in 2009, “How an accident caused the Berlin Wall to come down” for the Washington Post.

Legislator Sponsorship Discolusures #

Yes, this was from last year (sat in my drafts folder unnoticed!), but someone had the idea of the decade!

This person was responding to an article on a bill under discussion in the Utah Legislature that would have crippled infrastructure and expansion for municipal fiber providers (like UTPOIA), and said:

Just like Nascar, members of Congress should wear sponsorship decals on their suits for any corporate entity that gave them campaign donations totaling more than, say, $10,000.

Then when one of them offers up a bill that is so obviously pandering to a certain campaign donor, youll immediately think oh, well, now it makes sense.

Comment on “Utah bill would stop regional fiber networks from expanding”, Ars Technica, 5 Feb 2014.

Hire Tom! Hire Tom!