Antivaccine nonsense Autism Complementary and alternative medicine Medicine Quackery

A warm-up for the David Kirby-Arthur Allen debate

In a warmup for his “debate” later today in LaJolla, CA with Arthur Allen, David Kirby spews the usual pseudoscience again. I can’t believe he’s still making the long debunked “autism has the same symptoms as mercury poisoning” statement with a straight face, and then continuing to parrot the same old “mercury in thimerosal in vaccines causes autism” and the same fallacy of equating correlation with causation by claiming that, because autism increased in the 1990’s at the same time when more vaccines were being added to the childhood vaccination schedule.

I’m not sure why the video is cut off the way it is, but listen anyway. Either way, Arthur Allen pretty easily demolished David Kirby’s “arguments,” such as they were.

In any case, Kirby is going to have an even harder time arguing that thimerosal causes autism, because, as I mentioned before, the Q4 2006 California Department of Developmental Services statistics for the number of cases of autism/ASDs in 3-5 year olds have been released.

Remember Kirby’s statement:

If the total number of 3-5 year olds in the California DDS system has not declined by 2007, that would deal a severe blow to the autism-thimerosal hypothesis.

Well, they haven’t declined, as Autism Diva explains:


Note that there has been no decrease since 2002. Note that the rate of increase is not even slowing down, as pointed out by Interverbal and Kevin. Note how the Diva makes fun of the mercury militia cranks Mark and David Geier for trying to show an inflection point in the CDDS data where none exists. It’s the same thing they tried to do with the data from the VAERS database, which I made fun of not long after joining ScienceBlogs. In fact, the Geiers’ bad math with regards to the CDDS and the VAERS databases even inspired now-fellow ScienceBlogger Mark Chu-Carroll to start his own blog, Good Math, Bad Math. Indeed, Mark’s very first post after his introducion post on Good Math, Bad Math was an explanation about why the statistics used by the Geiers were so horribly wrong.

So, I suppose you can thank the Geiers and their pseudoscientific statistical “analyses” for inspiring one of our top ScienceBloggers to start blogging and produced for me my first blogchild.

But I digress.

The main point is that the data is such that even the most die-hard mercury militia members and anti-vaccinationists are having a hard time not sounding increasingly ridiculous as they defend the mercury-autism link. Their wishful thinking leads to statistical idiocy such as demonstrated by the Geiers’ increasingly desperate and–shall we say?–creative torturing of the data. Unfortunately, the discrediting of the idea that mercury in vaccines causes autism has also led the Geiers into even more dubious and dangerous “autism cures” than chelation therapy, “cures” such as chemical castration with Lupron coupled with chelation therapy (and trying to patent the procedure as well) and doing ethically challenged “clinical trials” approved by a highly suspect Institutional Review Board packed with friends and cronies.

So, with the epidemiology and science failing to support him, what will David Kirby do? I predicted that he’d shift goalposts again by saying that what he “really meant” was that the CDDS numbers would have to decline by the end of 2007. Joseph makes this prediction:

David Kirby has shifted goalposts before. My hunch is that Kirby will not own up to his prediction. From his latest blog post the strategy seems pretty clear. Autism incidence is not going down, so he’s now focusing on a new syndrome he made up that he imagines underwent an “epidemic” and presumably is or was on an downward trend. On EOHarm he’s also been expressing interest in the environmental pollution hypothesis, which in my opinion is flawed in exactly the same way the TV hypothesis is.

Here is a recap of other reactions you should expect to see from the mercury militia:

  • Thimerosal in the Flu vaccine is enough to sustain the epidemic on its own. (Unstated: Autism rates are not dose-dependent; there wasn’t really an autism epidemic in the 1990s; autism started in 1931 but was recognized much later at current rates).
  • The epidemic was caused by thimerosal in the RhoGAM shot, not that in pediatric vaccines.
  • There is another vaccine ingredient (e.g. aluminum) which is interchangeable with thimerosal as an autism risk factor, and the dose of this ingredient was increased in a precise manner such that removal of thimerosal would not be noticed.

Clearly, it will be very difficult for the autism-thimerosal worldview to survive and continue to be one of interest in the autism community.


He forgot one more dubious rationalization, though, one that Kirby used in the interview: Pregnant mothers are getting flu shots, and the prenatal exposure to thimerosal is much more potent at causing autism than postnatal exposure, which is why the rates haven’t declined. Never mind that it’s a fairly recent recommendation that pregnant women receive flu shots and, specific to California (since we’re talking about CDDS numbers) it is a state law that thimerosal-free vaccines be used in pregnant women. Oh, and another rationalization that I’ve heard is that the “trace amounts” of thimerosal in some vaccines (thimerosal is still used in the manufacturing process, and trace amounts remain in many vaccines) is enough to cause autism. Of course, as Arthur Allen points out in the interview above, children are now being exposed to a lower level of thimerosal in vaccines than at any time since the 1950’s. So why wasn’t there an “autism epidemic” 50 years ago? If such a low level of mercury exposure is enough to cause autism, then levels of autism should have been much, much higher 20, 30, 40, and 50 years ago.

Unfortunately, I have a further prediction: Despite their increasing marginalization by the science, they won’t stop trying. As I’ve said before: It’s about more than just the thimerosal in vaccines. It’s about vaccines themselves. Thimerosal is simply a convenient bogeyman to use to blame vaccines for autism, and the antivaccinationists will soon find another ingredient to blame.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

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