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“Building bridges” to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement?

Thanks to Andrew Wakefield, it’s been pretty much vaccine week for me. Well, mostly anyway, I did manage to have some fun with Mike Adams and the immune system, but otherwise it’s been all vaccines all the time this week. As I mentioned yesterday, at the risk of dwelling on one topic so long that I start driving away readers, I’ve just decided to ride the wave and go with it until it’s over. Unless something blows up over the weekend, I rather suspect that, for all intents and purposes, it’ll be over as of today and I can move on to other topics starting Monday. At least I hope so.

But there’s one more issue related to the Andrew Wakefield case that I feel I’d be remiss not to cover, as it’s a very important issue. I was reminded of it by Chris Mooney in a post entitled Will the Vaccine-Autism Saga Finally End? He and I both know the answer to this question (no), but in discussing why neither the General Medical Council’s finding Andrew Wakefield to have behaved dishonestly and unethically in doing the “research” that led to his 1998 Lancet paper that launched the MMR scare in the U.K. nor the decision of the Lancet’s editors to retract said 1998 paper would end the vaccine autism manufactroversy, Mooney suggested a way out of this problem that is profoundly misguided, naive, and reveals a profound misunderstanding of the anti-vaccine movement.

Before I explain what it was he said and why I find it so problematic, let me just point out that I was actually surprised at his post, because Chris has done good work before. I like Chris, by and large. I’ve gone drinking with Chris before (in Washington, DC three years ago, when I was at a conference). Moreover, last year Chris published an excellent overview of the anti-vaccine movement and why it is a danger to public health for the June issue of Discover Magazine, entitled Why Does the Vaccine/Autism Controversy Live On? (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll point out that Chris interviewed me for the article, and I did my best to give him as much background as I could, but he also interviewed numerous other people.) In rereading it, saw the germ of a promising idea for how to try to restore public confidence in vaccines, but in reading Mooney’s latest, I wonder if he’s taken that idea too far. I’ll explain.

First, though, let me point out that I completely agree with Chris when he writes:

Here’s the thing, though. It seems obvious to all recent commentators–myself included–that the latest Wakefield news will have virtually no impact on Wakefield’s passionate followers, the anti-vaccine ideologues in the UK and United States who have long cheered him on, and will continue to do so. If anything, it will probably only make them still stronger in their convictions.

Which is very similar to what I’ve said more than once this week. In the eyes of his supporters, Wakefield has become a martyr, struck down by The Man in the form of pharmaceutical companies, governments, and uncaring science that wants to poison children with toxic vaccines. It’s all a fever dream, a fantasy, of course, but that’s how they view Wakefield, despite his callous disregard for children, his incompetent science (and even possible outright fraud), and his lack of ethics. Truly, it is a cult of personality, and recognizing that Wakefield is likely to be even more lionized than ever by the anti-vaccine movement is what Chris gets right.

What Chris gets so very, very wrong is this:

…I believe we need some real attempts at bridge-building between medical institutions–which, let’s admit it, can often seem remote and haughty–and the leaders of the anti-vaccination movement. We need to get people in a room and try to get them to agree about something–anything. We need to encourage moderation, and break down a polarized situation in which the anti-vaccine crowd essentially rejects modern medical research based on the equivalent of conspiracy theory thinking, even as mainstream doctors just shake their heads at these advocates’ scientific cluelessness.

Chris’s naïveté on this issue is astonishing in light of his excellent Discover piece last year. He appears utterly unaware that scientists have been trying to reach out and build bridges to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement for years, if not decades. It hasn’t worked. It doesn’t work. As Mike Stanton pointed out in a comment, public health bodies courted Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center (whom I’ve discussed recently here, here, and here). The only result is that it raised her profile. She hasn’t budged an inch; she is still as anti-vaccine as ever. One recent example that stands out in my mind occurred in 2007, when Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds participated as a consultant in the design of a large study designed to ask whether there was a link between thimerosal containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders other than autism. Unfortunately for her, the study failed to find a link. All investigators found were a handful of correlations, both positive and negative, that occurred at a frequency consistent with random chance. In a case of sour grapes, Bernard disowned the study before it was published and then, after it was published, launched attacks against it, even going so far as to write a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine criticizing it.

Another example came to mind. Almost two and a half years ago, Dr. Thomas Insel, Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, appointed prominent anti-vaccine activists to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), apparently in the name of “inclusiveness” and “building bridges” The anti-vaccinationists appointed to the committe were Lyn Redwood, Vice President of SafeMinds; Lee Grossman, President of the Autism Society of America; and Stephen Shore, who included in his book Understanding Autism for Dummies clearly showed anti-vaccine proclivities and supports the idea that chelation therapy can be used to treat autism. It’s been a total disaster. Not only did anti-vaccine propagandist David Kirby crow over it as “proof” that the government considers the idea that vaccines cause autism to be a scientifically viable hypothesis “worth studying,” but Redwood and her pal Mark Blaxill (another Vice President of SafeMinds and an editor at the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism) have hijacked the process at every turn. Dr. Insel, again apparently in the name of being “inclusive” and “tolerant” won’t rein them in. He basically lets them run wild, and other members of the committee are complaining. As Sullivan has pointed out, this mischief has a cost:

Hours and hours were spent in the IACC meetings wordsmithing the vaccine language. To groups like SafeMinds and people like Lyn Redwood, the Strategic Plan was a political document. It was a statement by the government, and it was critical to get as much “admission” of autism being caused by vaccines as was possible. So what if another generation of minorities gets mislabeled with Intellectual Disability or some other Special Education category when SafeMinds was able to get the IACC to admit that many parents think vaccines cause autism?

This is what happens when psuedo “Vaccine-injury” advocates pretend to be Autism advocates and take seats at the table. Lyn Redwood put her own interests and those of her organizations ahead of the well being of people with autism.

Which is what the anti-vaccine movement does, because at its heart it’s not about autism to them, the names of their societies notwithstanding. It’s all about the vaccines; specifically, it’s all about opposing vaccines and promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism and all sorts of other “horrors.”

Chris is profoundly misguided in his apparent belief that any amount of “bridge building” will bring anti-vaccine activists around. Their beliefs are as ingrained as those of any fundamentalist religion and just as resistant to bridge-building over the core belief around which they revolve. Indeed, trying to reach out to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement is pointless. It is, as AutismNewsBeat so pithily characterizes it, akin to “bridge-building efforts by evolutionary biologists toward creationists. Or by B’nai Brith to mend fences with the Nazis. I’m sure those meetings went well.” I agree fully. Thinking that “building bridges” to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement will achieve anything except giving them more opportunity to sabotage public health by giving them an unearned feeling of power and legitimacy is likely to be as productive as evolutionary biologists engaging with Ken Ham, Casey Luskin, or Dr. Michael Egnor or for Deborah Lipstadt to engage with David Irving. As they say, you can’t use reason to lead someone away from views that they didn’t reach using reason.

No, the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, people such as J.B. Handley, Lyn Redwood, Mark Blaxill, Jenny McCarthy and her boyfriend Jim Carrey, Barbara Loe Fisher, and Lee Grossman, don’t need bridges built to them. It’s a pointless exercise, as has been shown time and time again. Every attempt to do so is viewed by them as a sign of weakness or vindication of their crank views, never as an opportunity for compromise. That is why they need to be cut off from the oxygen that fuels their movement: publicity. AutismNewsBeat is correct to point out that we need to change the public narrative from “vaccines might cause autism” to “vaccine rejectionists are barking loons who endanger us all” because the are barking loons who endanger children by destroying herd immunity and increasing the chances of vaccine preventable diseases returning. Indeed, we’ve already seen this in the U.K., where MMR vaccination uptake has plummeted, thanks to Wakefield, and measles has come roaring back. As Mike Stanton says:

Instead of building bridges we should be building a cordon sanitaire to keep these predators at bay. We have our own compelling stories to tell. What about the childhood cancer victims who cannot be vaccinated and cannot attend day care for fear of a lethal encounter with the unvaccinated offspring of the worried well? What about the excellent journalism of of people like Trine Tsouderos at the Chicago Tribune, exposing the money grubbing quacks who feast on parental fears offering false hopes at a premium price? Or the vaccine success story in Africa where Measles deaths fell by 91% between 2000 and 2006, from an estimated 396,000 to 36,000 thanks to a mass vaccination campaign?

We will never persuade the die-hards. Our best tactic is to act to prevent them from persuading anyone else.

Exactly. In a free society, that means countering their misinformation in uncompromising terms and holding editors and reporters to task when they allow the “tell both sides” ethic to give the false appearance of equivalence between real science and the pseudoscience of vaccine denialists. Remember that the anti-vaccine loons are out there in force doing exactly what commenter Kim on AoA is doing:

Here’s an idea, call your local health reporters and introduce yourself. Tell them when anything comes up in the news about autism that you are their “go-to”. Make sure they have all your contact numbers/email, etc and tell them if you don’t know the answers, then you will find someone in the community who does. I’ve got 2 stations and the newspaper in town calling me everytime something happens anywhere remotely close to autism. It’s great for awareness and if only ONE parent learns something, we all win! This week I even got my own 3.5 minute spot on the Fox station in town. I’ll post when it’s online…

Although, for instance, I’ve made myself available to the media, I haven’t been proactive about it. Nor, I daresay, have most of us trying to defend science against pseudoscience. I have, however, written to the odd local reporter who has written a credulous story about autism “biomed” treatments and the anti-vaccine movement, in which an anti-vaccine group is portrayed as an autism advocacy group. I think it helped, but I won’t know until these reporters write another story on the subject, which, for all I know, could be months. Still, blogs aren’t enough. Twitter isn’t enough. The “old media” is still very powerful and will likely always be powerful. Web 2.0 is great, but it’s not (yet) enough to counter the power of mass media.

It is important to remember, however, that we are talking about the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement. We are talking about the J. B. Handleys of the world. We are talking about the Barbara Loe Fishers of the world. We are talking about the Lyn Redwoods of the world. We are not talking about parents who are afraid of vaccines because of what they hear on the Internet but are not committed to the cause of promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism. They may even be parents who have autistic children who think that vaccines were responsible. It is for these parents that Mooney’s strategy might have a chance of working. Indeed, I would liken these parents to the moderate religious people whom Mooney advocates working with to promote good science evolution, including evolution, and to defend science education against the intrusions of creationism. In essence, this is two-pronged strategy in which the die-hards are marginalized as much as is possible in a democracy through cutting them off from the easy access to the media that they have enjoyed thus far while at the same time building bridges not to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement but to the moderates who are not beyond recovery.

I’m under no illusion that it will be easy to distinguish one from the other or even to work with those who are not in so deep that they can’t be persuaded. I do know, however, that scientists and the government have tried time and time again to “build bridges” to leaders of the anti-vaccine movement. It doesn’t work, and it’s time to try something different.

If Chris (or anyone else, for that matter) has any specific ideas for what that something different is, I’d be more than happy to listen. In fact, if Chris (or anyone else, for that matter) can show me that I’m dead wrong about the uselessness of trying to “build bridges” with the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement, I’d be more than happy to listen. Who knows? I might even change my mind if the arguments are compelling enough and backed by strong evidence.

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]

175 replies on ““Building bridges” to the leaders of the anti-vaccine movement?”

I’m only going by what I read on Pharyngula, but this sounds similar to Mooney’s plea of “being nice” to the science-illiterate in Unscientific American. What’s interesting is that apparently he can be aggressive with anti-science types when he wants:

I really try to adopt a live-and-let-live philosophy, but I absolutely agree we need to be more aggressive with this stuff. People like Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, Bill Maher, et. al., are dangerous people. They push ideas that kill people. Not cool.

But isn’t this Chris Mooney’s MO? Doesn’t he want to tone down the evolution rhetoric, too? I, personally, am tired of this wishy-washy crap, especially when so much is at stake.

I completely agree that the leaders of this have to be written off as a lost cause. It is not worth the effort to reach them.

Seems to me we (defenders of science and evidence) need to get out where the mushy middle sits and convince them. I did a post on that after I attended a CDC flu vax meeting a few months back.

But what I could have used was backup. Unlike the crank network, the science network was _not_ activated for this. And I don’t know how to do that. I reached out to a couple of people and places that I thought had megaphones, but it didn’t have any impact. I had only accidentally found out about this meeting, and found out late, after the crank bat-signal was already aware.


I was thinking the same thing. I recall many of PZ’s posts dealing with Chris Mooney’s attitudes towards creationists. So it wasn’t completely surprising to hear that Mooney’s suggesting the same sort of approach to another band of pseudoscience advocates.

I think the antivax leaders need the same kind of bridges built to them as the one Buzz Aldrin famously built to Bart Sibrel, generally.

AutismNewsBeat is correct to point out that we need to change the public narrative from “vaccines might cause autism” to “vaccine rejectionists are barking loons who endanger us all”

The tide is already turning. The comments in the NY Times on the vaccine articles this week have been running heavily against the anti-vaxxers. People are starting to get the message, so it’s just a matter of building on the momentum.

Huh. I guess Chris Mooney is a broad-spectrum accommodationist. With religion, at least it kinda makes a little bit of sense (it’s hard to go against so much entrenched history), but to try and accommodate the desires of some weird fringe group? Are we going to start accommodating the 9/11 troofers or the teabaggers or the Raelians next?

Seriously, there’s a point at which you have to stop and say “look, you’re wrong. Reality is on this side of the line, and you’re all the way over there.”

But isn’t this Chris Mooney’s MO? Doesn’t he want to tone down the evolution rhetoric, too?

That’s my recollection as well. OTOH, I also seem to recall a pretty big pissing match between Orac and PZ Myers over this, when Myers criticized Mooney for it and Orac came to his defense. Now, it seems, the shoe is on the other foot. Mooney doesn’t seem so helpful when he is acting accomodationist on your own cause, it appears.

When the rate went to 1 in 110 I decided to look at the problem. Since the experts had looked at all the chemical compounds I looked for nonchemical enviromental causes of autism. These could be cosmic radiation, ultraviolet radiation,sound, light and touch. Taste and smell would have a chemical base.
I found that about 25% of children born blind become autistic. So could light or the lack of it be part of the cause? Is there a visual component to autism? Then I found a study by David Fitzpatrick and others at Duke using ferrets that was interesting. They raised 3 groups, normal, total darkness and with eye lids fastened shut so that the only light filtered through their eye lids. The ones raise in darkness showed normal but diminished brain development but the ones with closed eye lids had no normal development, so the conclusion was that abnormal light input was far worse than no light. Could this be why blind autistic children respond to training and treatment better than other autistic children? So how do autistic children get an abnormal light input? The only possibility is fluorescent lighting, which is actually strobe lighting. Fluorescent lighting turns completely off 120 times per second, that is the room goes completely dark 120 times per second. The infant brain is unencombered by speach, memory, planning ahead or a thousand other things that the adult brain is doing. Because of this I think the visual input of infants can be very rapid and they see this intermittant light and this disrupts the normal development of the mirror neuron system in the brain. The mirror neuron system allowes us to recognise emotions in others and to develope our emotional system. Dysfunction of the mirror neuron system has long been thought to be the core cause of autism.
Now let’s compare histories, the first cases of autism were diagnosed in the early 1940s,fluorescent lighting started to be sold in 1938.the autism rate has gone up 1000% since 1996, screw in fluorescent lights came to the market in 1995, the 220,000 Amish use no electricity and have virtually no autism, The correlation between rain fall and autism in the pacific north west is caused by the additional light required for overcast conditions, the 1 in 58 rate in the U.K. is caused by their electricity which is 50 cycle so the visual input of their infants has to slow down much more than ours to avoid the strobe effect and finally the report of the California clusters. Educated couples of child bearing age living in affluent neighborhoods usually both work to get by so the children go to day care. The first cluster is centered around Culver City so I went to the yellow pages and found six day care centers and their address’s. Then I went to google earth and looked at them, 5 of the 6 were in commercial buildings so any ambiant light if any had to come in through the front. Those children got fluorescent lighting at home at night and at day care during the day. Double the exposure double the rate. Case closed.

Mooney seems determined to demonstrate to all that he is completely clueless.  If that’s his plan, he is succeeding.

And I do think this is similar to his accommodationist views on the teaching of evolution.  I have to disagree with you, Orac on this:

I would liken these parents to the moderate religious people whom Mooney advocates working with to promote good science evolution

Not really.  Mooney’s view, as I understand it, is that we shouldn’t try to convince the moderate religious that they are wrong and that they should be atheists; he’s saying we should convince them that evolution and science are compatible with religion.  Surely, we actually do want to convert the worried parents? 

That would be very, very, weak suggestiveness even if there was any biological plausibility. Since the strobing of florescent lights is too fast to be perceived by the human eye, there is none.

Regarding dealing with reporters:

Orac probably already knows this, but if you’re going to make yourself available as a “go-to” guy, you have to deliver with reasonable soundbites. Precise language about how studies fail to show any link between vaccines and autism is no match for “There is no reputable link between vaccines and autism.” Be direct, be blunt, and save the scientifically defensible language for letters to medical journals.

“There is no reputable link between vaccines and autism.”

A-ha. So you admit there is a link, you just refuse to accept it because it goes against your religion.

Scotty, it’s not that easy.

It doesn’t work. As Mike Stanton pointed out in a comment, public health bodies courted Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center (whom I’ve discussed recently here, here, and here).

Well they damn well better. She was instrumental in passing the infamous 1986 legislation that has afforded the availability of vaccines without threat of litigation. Allowing a consumer advocate for this kind of protection doesn’t seem like such a bad tradeoff from an industry point of view.

One recent example that stands out in my mind occurred in 2007, when Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds participated as a consultant in the design of a large study designed to ask whether there was a link between thimerosal containing vaccines and neurodevelopmental disorders other than autism.

Help me here: other than autism, no unvaccinated children, and 30% of those selected participated. Are these not valid criticisms?

It’s all about the vaccines; specifically, it’s all about opposing vaccines and promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism and all sorts of other “horrors.”

Yes, that’s what people like you see. And I agree, it is all about the vaccines and the policy that has evolved since the late 80’s. I have YET to find any good safety data that has justified the increase in vaccines to children under the age of two and we won’t even do an observational study of both populations to make sure we’re not causing more harm than good. There has been a tendency to extrapolate data from older age groups, and this, is bad science. I’ll concede that it has definitely aided in removing any possible control group, making the attempts for such a study extremely difficult. Don’t bark about confounders people, it’s still worthwhile to do. Those being honest know this is true.

Mike Stanton via Orac: What about the childhood cancer victims who cannot be vaccinated and cannot attend day care for fear of a lethal encounter with the unvaccinated offspring of the worried well?

Yes, let’s discriminate. That is certainly helpful. Shall the parent of an unvaccinated child show up with their blood panels and titre levels and hopefully make a difference in your discriminatory behavior? Well no, because from one side of your mouth you’ll tell me that they are no measure of immunity, and then out of the other you will show me efficacy data which specifically relates to seroconversion. Positive titres have not been demonstrated in challenge studies to indicate “immunity”. A person’s ability to produce antibodies to any given disease causing agent doesn’t mean that they will resist disease. There’s a lot to be said about being subclinical.

I’ll agree with you on this point though, those most visible in this issue are doing the most harm.


The strobing of a properly functioning fluorescent light is too fast to be consciously perceived by the human eye. That said, there are people for whom even slightly imperfect fluorescents are a migraine trigger. So clearly they can perceive it.

And then there are some of us who will be bothered for days or weeks as an old-style fluorescent light at the office or in the classroom slowly fails, and it isn’t replaced because most people don’t care. There’s a built-in fluorescent light at my desk. It flickers. I can’t get it replaced, so I work by the overhead lights and the light from my monitor (even when doing paperwork).

I don’t know whether fluorescents are connected to autism, but I don’t think we can dismiss the idea on the grounds that the human eye can’t perceive the flickering. Some people’s eyes can. And one thing we do know about autism is that it affects about 1 percent of the population; maybe they’re some subset of those who are unusually sensitive to strobing and/or defective fluorescent lights. Or include such a subset: this may be a case where “yes, there are Amish children with autism” is relevant.

Mooney’s mistake is in thinking that the antiscience lot (“The Republican War on Science,” creationists, antivaxers) can be convinced to behave rationally if we just find a way to communicate with them. They can’t.

These groups’ opposition to science is just a symptom of their main goals: the advancement of conservative ideology, religion, etc. They view any compromise of these principles as failing to “Stand Up for What They Believe In.” Since compromise is impossible, the only recourse is to show that their extension of those principles into science is wrong. Show it repeatedly, loudly, publicly, and rudely if that might work.

i am with Scott. i doesn’t seem plausible that lighting has anything to do with it. also, i don’t have the references, but i am sure i have seen posted here by Orac that the Amish/no-autism connection is completely false. the Amish *do* have autism at rates comparable to the general population.

You know Oren, I believe you’re right. You have just proven the sole cause of autism in your 525 words-without-paragraphs. Case closed!

The reaction of Wakefield’s supporters to revelations of his disgraceful behavior should be ample evidence of the failure of reason and due process in dealing with diehard antivaxers. They’re a lost cause.

The cause that’s important is the children of parents who are wavering in the face of destructive antivax propaganda, and society at large which is at risk from the return of preventable infectious diseases. Our focus at this point should be to continue working with the news media to report responsibly on vaccination and autism, on organizations funding autism research which should be looking into real causes and treatment, and on Congress to prevent hijacking of the public health agenda by antivax activism.

You can’t build bridges to people who are eager only to blow them up.

I agree. It would be a “bridge to nowhere”: there are those who cannot be reached, cannot be taught,and cannot be influenced, who are highly invested emotionally and/or financially.I suspect that in many cases, using an external,controllable cause(i.e. vaccines, toxins)is protective of the “believer’s” self-esteem(“Nothing wrong with *my* genes or *my* parenting behavior!”)- those whose *business* (or *raison d’etre*) is anti-vax, as well as general “contrarians”.They are probably a small(but very vocal) minority…..Perhaps our job is something like that of a tennis player who tries to anticipate/”cover” the majority of most likely “shots” delivered by the opponent-we want to reach the greatest number of (most likely to be) *influencable* people, discounting the impossible ones .


Your point is well taken – I was incorrect. The weakness of the evidence and complete lack of a biological mechanism still stand, though, even if there isn’t specific evidence for the absence of such a mechanism.

You can’t build bridges to people who are eager only to blow them up.


It would be a “bridge to nowhere”

While these statements are pithy, I think they fail to reflect the problem that is at hand with such efforts. My pithy comeback would be, “You don’t want to build bridges to people who will use them carry out an assault on you.”

As Orac describes, we already have situations where there have been bridges, and all that happens is that they mobilize to cross it into the enemy territory. Once there, they use filibusterish techniques to get their way and increase their presence. Why in the hell would they want to demolish that opportunity by blowing up the bridge?

THEY want the bridge, because THEY are the ones who benefit from it. It’s not advancing science at all.

If you’ve got the Rhein separating you from the German army, you don’t build a bridge to give them a means to attack.

screw the bridge building. we should go all emperor’s-new-clothes on the antivaxxers.

point at them and exclaim they’re naked.

point at them and exclaim they’re naked

That makes my German army analogy a lot more interesting.

Denice is right, the accomodationist approach appears to be based on a flawed assumption that if you make some concessions to the other side you can win them over. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about anti-vaxers, creationists, animal rights activists or AGW “skeptics”, this almost never happens.

What scientists should be concentrating on is convincing the far larger group of people who are not already committed to one side or the other, and that is where lending credibility to anti-science forces by making concessions to them can be very dangerous.

You’re surprised this is coming from Chris Mooney? He of the “if religious wackjobs don’t believe in evolution, it must be the fault of those nasty atheist scientists!” fame? Please. Whatever great work Mooney may have done in the past, nowadays he has this accomodationist bug so far up his ass that, if he were living in 1938 Germany, he’d say the Jews weren’t doing a good job of “framing” their plight to the National Socialist Party.

FWIW, I do think many physicians/pediatricians can do more to build bridges to the marks of the anti-vaccine movement. The leaders? The advocates? They are already irrevocably gone over to the dark side. But the frightened first time mom who thinks, “Well, maybe there is something to this… maybe I should talk to my doctor about an alternative vaccination schedule?”, these are the people who are still very much reachable. I have heard horror stories of pediatricians becoming angry and derisive when their patients’ mothers inquire about anti-vax propaganda (in one case I am directly aware of, a doctor called a 20-year-old mom “stupid” for asking about a delayed schedule). I’m sure most pediatricians are more patient, but it never hurts to remind them that the marks are not the enemy; they have merely been conned, and patience and compassion, and maybe even a willingness to compromise (if a patient is really adamant, a delayed-but-complete schedule is still better than no shots or an incomplete schedule) are the appropriate responses.

Mooney’s suggestion that the leaders of the anti-vax movement can be swayed with honey? Insane, inane, immature, and dare I say, self-serving, since Mooney’s making a name for himself as Mr. Accomodationism.

Indeed, I would liken these parents to the moderate religious people whom Mooney advocates working with to promote good science evolution, including evolution, and to defend science education against the intrusions of creationism.

I just want to point out that many of those people whom Mooney has in the past criticized as not sufficiently accommodating towards religion do have a history of working with “moderate religious people” to “promote good science”. Dawkins, for instance, has worked extensively with the Bishop of Something-or-other.

Where Mooney and the New Atheists part ways is whether it is okay to also say that, despite having moderate religious allies, you do not believe religion and science are ultimately consistent, for fear that your allies will be driven off. To which all I can say is, if someone is that touchy about their religion that they can’t even tolerate an alliance with someone who disagrees with them on certain issues, maybe they weren’t all that “moderate” to begin with….

James Sweet – you say this doctor calling the mom stupid something you are “directly” aware of. I am curious, were you actually in the room and heard it? Or did she tell you? Or did the doctor tell you?

As we know, patient’s versions of what doctors say are not always accurate (like Suzanne Sommers?). I would especially be cautious about it coming from a 20 year old mom, who I know from a lot of experience (including now) are extremely sensitive about any comment that doesn’t blow fluff up their pants. They can consider everything to be an insult (if the doctor even used the word stupid in the room, it can be misinterpreted, “Well, if the tonsils show signs of serious infection, we could do a tonsilectomy, but it would be stupid to do surgery if it is just a runny nose” “He said I was stupid!”)

Whatever great work Mooney may have done in the past, nowadays he has this accomodationist bug so far up his ass that, if he were living in 1938 Germany, he’d say the Jews weren’t doing a good job of “framing” their plight to the National Socialist Party.

That was totally uncalled for, and I invoke Godwin’s law.

Re the suggestion to mobilize scientists/doctors as “go-to” folks on vaccine-related issues:

I think this may have a chance in a local media market. But nationally, the media loves nothing better than an argument, leading to the drafting of scientists and doctors for exactly the sort of “tell both sides” presentation that Orac decried a couple of posts ago.

As a late friend of mine used to say, “You got a better chance of seeing God” than of getting movement from the firmly cemented positions of the vaccine/autism folks, no matter how well “framed” and no matter how much more scientific evidence accumulates. What I think might work better to change public opinion are items orthogonal to autism, such as recent stories saying (1) 40% of cancers could be prevented with vaccines and a healthy lifestyle, and (2) higher vaccination compliance by seniors could help prevent 40-50,000 deaths and $10 billion in extra medical costs annually in the U.S. alone.

I don’t want to “build bridges” with anti-vax loons. I want to nuke their silly little island back into the stone age where they obviously want to live.

Thank you Coryat. It’s hard to dismiss the near perfect correlation of the history of autism and the history of fluorescent lighting as well as the other 4 correlations. I have UC Davis and childrens Hospital of Philidelphia interested in this theory. They may be willing to run EEG or brain scans on very young children to see if they can detect a change when going from incandescent to fluorescent lighting. If they can I think we have a solution.

40% of cancers could be prevented with vaccines and a healthy lifestyle

You know, I hate this statement. Not because it is wrong, but because it is so ripe for abuse. It feeds straight into the supplement manufacturer market.

“The FDA says that 40% of cancers can be prevented with a healthier lifestyle. Our snake oil^H^H^H^H fish oil supplement pills are clinically proven to be part of a healthier lifestyle.”

Screw the “healthier lifestyle” crap. Get to the point: stop smoking. “20% of cancers could be prevented if people would STOP SMOKING.”

We’ll worry about the other stuff once that is taken care of.

James, #31. Thanks for that last paragraph. I agree with that and it is a point I do not see brought up very often. People really need to grow up and be a little bigger when it comes to dealing with those who disagree with them. If you look at Dawkins or PZ it seems they are more than willing to interact and discuss things with religious communities. I think I remember at least one occasion, though perhaps there are more, where PZ has gone and talked in churches about science. I think they would be more than willing to team up to promote good science as well.

It seems building bridges is often expected to be a one way endeavor.

You have a point about lighting conditions contributing to autism. (Computer screens are also a significant issue.) But this is confusing the symptom with the disease. Autistics are very sensitive to their environment, and different individuals have different sensitivities. (I have used the phrase “kryptonite stimulus”.) Dealing with these issues means either changing the environment, or teaching autistics how to react to stress without a “breakdown”.

@Oren Evans,

As an automotive engineer who has become rather a specialist in PWM lighting technologies, I can assure you that an adult human takes, at it’s fastest rate about 20 milliseconds to react to a change in light. (This does vary a bit between people and color vs. black and white vision, and the various frequencies of color.) That’s about 50 Hz. (Frankly, if you can see a 50Hz flicker you are superhuman, most humans can’t see better than about 20Hz and the frame rate of movies is between 24Hz and 30Hz.)

Even if a newborn’s eyes can react twice as fast (and I have no reason to think that it does, I’ve never looked into the question), your hypothesis doesn’t hold much water. Note, looking around I find a 1995 study by Bieber,, suggests that infants and adults have similar reaction times, See Spectral efficiency measured by heterochromatic flicker photometry is similar in human infants and adults, Vision Res. 1995 May;35(10):1385-92.

Next, you are jumping to conclusions about the type of light used in day care facilities, a simple search of on google maps is not sufficient to show that these facilities only use fluorescent lighting. I wouldn’t be surprised that they do, but you haven’t shown that they do.

Third, there are well documented cases of autism among the Amish. Do a search on this blog to get some links.

Forth, I’m certain you are aware that differences in reported rates of autism between different countries can be more easily explained by the differences in reporting criteria than by difference in AC frequencies. Autism is a spectrum disorder, it’s not like a broken bone where a simple test verifies the diagnosis. The rise in reported autism rates in the US are most likely due to increased awareness of the condition, diagnostic substitution [There were a couple children I went to school with who, on reflection, were probably autistic. We just called them retarded. I haven’t seen that term used in a long time.], and the expansion of the diagnostic criteria in the mid-1990’s. The higher rate that you claim for the UK (I hadn’t heard that particular number before) is still very likely to be related to the differences in diagnostic criteria.

Checking this is simple, is the reported rate in all countries which use 60Hz the same? How about all countries which use a 50Hz system? If you claim that different reporting criteria explains those differences, why is it different because of power line frequency?

Fourth, repeat after me the mantra of statistical epidemiology, “Correlation is not Causation”. Yes, in 1936 fluorescent lighting was introduced. Also in 1936 British television broadcasts started, and the first practical helicopter was invented. In 1937 Britain deploys radar stations. In 1938 the first ball-point pen was patented by Biro, and DuPont starts selling nylon. In 1939 Birds Eye started production of pre-cooked frozen foods. And in 1940 freeze-dried foods are introduced. I could go on, but I think you see my point.

What you have is an observational hypothesis, and not a particularly good one, that the introduction of fluorescent lighting into delivery rooms increased the rate of autism.

This is based on a few observations;
1. the rate of autism in the population has increased (not demonstrated).

2. 25% of children born blind are autistic (I’d not see this figure before, got a source.) Even if true, it’s even more evidence for a genetic condition. Of course, since autism is a popular diagnosis these days, your claim about children born blind having a better response to teaching than non-blind born autistic children may simply be a case of a number of children born blind are mis-diagnosed with autism and thus they respond very well.

3. A study on ferrets. Please provide the cite, I’ve read the three papers Fitzpatrick has written using ferrets to model vision and none of them match the description of what you claim. The closest I could find was this one; White, L.E., D.M. Coppola, and D. Fitzpatrick (2001) The contribution of sensory experience to the maturation of orientation selectivity in ferret visual cortex. Nature 411: 1049-1052. And it compares directional sensitivity between light-reared and dark-reared ferrets, I can’t find anything about ferrets reared with their eyelids fastened shut (and I suspect an ethics board might have some difficulty with that one too). If this is indeed the paper you are referring to, it doesn’t claim what you think it does.

In short, the evidence you provide is flimsy (and in some cases false) and your hypothesis will need much stronger evidence than that to be considered a reasonable one. I’d start, if I were as convinced about it as you seem to be, by proving that the reported increase in autism rates is real and not an artifact of the changing diagnostic criteria. If you can do that, you are going to be much more likely to get the attention of someone who will study it.

But I do offer you one consolation. The new LED lights oscillate at about 1000 Hz, not 60 Hz, so the room goes dark (well, aside from the reflected light) 1000 times a second. (They are DC PWM controlled, not AC.) So, as the technology changes, and LED lighting is introduced into delivery rooms, if your hypothesis is true we will see a decrease in the rate of autism over the next 20 years or so.

Actually, as you see, I was quoting someone else as an example of two unreconcilable parties, but point taken. Even so, remember that Sweet’s example was, in essence, claiming that Mooney would have taken the side of the Nazis during the Holocaust. Not nice.

Bridge analogies aside, is there any indication that the people who believe that vaccines cause autism are interested in:

[1] Acknowledging (or even listening to) the scientific data that fail to show any connection between autism and vaccines?

[2] Changing or moderating their belief that vaccines (in some way) cause autism?

For that matter, is there any indication that the doctors and scientists who have done the research showing no apparent connection between autism and vaccines are interested in “moderating” their findings?

Wouldn’t that be scientific fraud?

The idea of “reaching out” or “building bridges” only works if both sides are willing to compromise on their positions. The “vaccines-cause-autism” groups have shown no interest in moderating their position in response to the data and the scientific community would be committing fraud if they “compromised” and said, “Well, the data aren’t everything – we can make ‘adjustments’ based on your ‘narratives’.”

Maybe I’m missing something, but there doesn’t seem to be a viable compromise between people who say “These are the data.” and those who say “I don’t believe the data.”

Any attempt to “build bridges” to the “vaccines-cause-autism” groups will be exploited by them to show the general public that they are being taken seriously by the scientific community – as detailed above. The only possible benefit to the scientific community would be to show the rest of the world “Well, we tried.”

Sometimes an issue is polarizing because there is no middle ground.


It’s hard to dismiss the near perfect correlation of the history of autism and the history of fluorescent lighting as well as the other 4 correlations.

If you consider that a “near perfect correlation”, then you know absolutely nothing about science, statistics, or the history of autism.

LED lights don’t oscillate. LEDs are Light Emitting Diodes. diodes conduct in only one direction. LEDs operate with a DC bias voltage across them–no AC. electron-hole pairs are created, then recombine and emit a photon. the photon emission is incoherent and continuous so there should be no flicker either.

Various gargantuan problems in Oren’s argument:

1. Conflating the original characterization of autism with its appearance.

2. Unsubstantiated assertion that “25% of children born blind become autistic”.

3. Completely ignoring potential confounders between blindness and autism to assume a causal relationship.

4. Reading far too much into a single study in ferrets showing that sensory experiences have impact on brain development – at best this is a demonstration of possibility, NOT evidence in favor.

5. Bald assertion that “the only possibility is fluorescent lighting” without any attempt whatsoever to justify why there is no other possibility.

6. Ignoring the difference between increased diagnosis and increased incidence.

7. Assumption that the rainfall/autism correlation is real as opposed to data mining AND that the correlation must obviously be due to lighting.

8. Extrapolation of the differing effects of different cycle rates without any foundation.

9. Completely ignoring confounders such as socioeconomic status impacting quality of medical care when assuming that California “clusters” are real.

And that’s just on a superficial survey. It puts the argument that global warming is caused by a lack of pirates to shame, since THAT correlation actually exists while not a single shred of the ‘evidence’ cited here convincingly supports the existence of a correlation, much less causation.

Oren Evans wrote @36

They may be willing to run EEG or brain scans on very young children to see if they can detect a change when going from incandescent to fluorescent lighting. If they can I think we have a solution.

Just have them replace their fluorescent lighting with LED. There are replacements available now, and while it may cost a few thousands of dollars (at about $60/bulb, that’s 1000 bulbs for $60,000. You have to disconnect the ballast, but that’s not too hard.), they will get two benefits, lower electric bills and evidence to support/disprove your idea.

I do think this retraction might be a good idea after all. The general public knows what it means when a journal retracts something. They know it means that whatever it was sucked. This does not require a PhD to get.

Quoth Oren: “I have UC Davis and childrens Hospital of Philidelphia interested in this theory.”

As a proud Aggie alumnus, I find this prospect disturbing. Which department head should I be contacting? (Or was that assertion just complete bollocks?)

Rob @45,

Yes, I should have been more clear. LED lighting runs at a DC level.

The DC voltage level is varies slightly between 1.8V and 2.4V, depending on the doping and current draw.

However, variable lighting level for LEDs, i.e. dimmable LED’s, do not dim by lowering the DC voltage level. Instead they use a PWM generator to turn the LEDs on and off at a high frequency. I’ve seen them used as low as 85Hz, but most manufactures recommend 1-2 kHz. All the T8 replacement bulbs I’ve seen are fixed DC levels, but the few that are dimmable run at around 1kHz.

So, my point is that in the worst case the on/off cycle for LED lighting is going to be around 1000Hz, assuming you are using variable level LED lighting.

I was thinking about going into that, but my post was getting too long already.

i was trying to think of some reason why you would run a LED on AC and could think of none. the pulse width scheme you mention makes sense wrt dimmable lights. however, why not just vary the input bias level to vary the brightness? heating issues? probably easier to implement with existing dimmer light switches? hmm.


Your argument starts with the assumption that the autism diagnoses are increasing at a alarming rate and therefore there must be a environmental cause not present in previous generations. That is a huge, platoesque assumption.

There is no evidence the prevalence of autism is even increasing. At this point, it appears far more likely that the broadening of the autism scope and better primary care at diagonalizing the signs of autism early in recent years are responsible for the increase rate of diagnoses.

The big fail in the science-based medicine community is in attempts at “countering their misinformation in uncompromising terms.” It seems every time I see a news report on this subject, they turn to the rational clinical view and get “There is no conclusive evidence that vaccines cause autism.” Of course, the corollaries are that evidence exists it is just not conclusive and/or there is no evidence that vaccines do not cause autism. Anyone who might lean somewaht toward the anti-vax viewpoinmt will not be swayed by this statement.

What is needed is to come up with short statements that will get the average listener angry about the anti-vaxxers. The appeal to risk of disease is not doing it because vaccines have made the diseases so rare and people think their vaccinated kids are safe.

How about an appeal to the pocketbook? Something like: We studied this possibility years ago and found no evidence of a link. But, because of the anti-vaxxers, we have had to revisit the question again at again, perform studies, create committees. And again and again, we find no link. Of course this all comes at taxpaayer expense and removes funds that could be used to find the true causes of autism or cancer or whatever.

Actually, as you see, I was quoting someone else as an example of two unreconcilable parties, but point taken. Even so, remember that Sweet’s example was, in essence, claiming that Mooney would have taken the side of the Nazis during the Holocaust. Not nice.

I actually wrote my comment before I read comments #32 and on (i.e., I didn’t refresh before writing). So it wasn’t intended to be a comment on your invoking Godwin’s Law. But I found it ironic that someone who is so attuned to Nazi comparison as to have invented the delightful Hitler Zombie would miss it in a quote that he “agree(s) fully” with. Really, I was just tweaking your nose.

As to Sweet’s example, I disagree that it claims that Mooney would have sided with the Nazis. Unless you are accusing Mooney of siding with the anti-vaxxers?

However, since Godwin has already been invoked, I will say I honestly agree with Sweet’s assessment of Mooney. Had he said 1943, I would have disagreed, but I don’t think the events leading up to 1938 would have been sufficient for Mooney to abandon his basic premise. Again, just an honest assessment, made while trying to avoid consideration of later events of the Holocaust.


LED are, as you mentioned above, semi-conductor diodes operating in a forward bias state. This means that based on the material, silicon is the common ones, and the doping, a very specific voltage drop occurs across the junction.

Adjusting the current can make minor changes in the voltage drop, but not a great deal. Forward conducting diodes are pretty well self-regulating. As an example, taking an LED from 2mA to 40mA may change the voltage drop from 1.8V to 2.1V. The light output of an LED depends directly on it’s current, so a 20-times (2000%) increase in light only corresponds to a 300mV or 16% change in voltage. It’s hard to control the light output of an LED by using voltage.

Further, most LEDs turn on at around 2mA of current, that is the light is perceptible. A certain amount of charge carriers have to pass the threshold level before light is emitted (kinda), so the dimmest and LED can get by controlling the voltage isn’t particularly dim.

Beyond that, once you get into white LEDs they actually change color at different current levels. White LEDs are really blue LEDs with a phosphor lens to absorb the higher frequencies of the blue light and re-emit them in the red side of the spectrum. This requires a balancing act in manufacturing LEDs, too much phosphor and the light is orange, to little and the light is blue. The balance is tuned toward the nominal operating current, 20-40mA depending on manufacturer, and below 10mA of current most white LEDs look decidedly blusish.

So turning them on and off at high frequencies, which is fine because their slew rate is very high, is the best way to vary the light output on white LEDs.

BKsea – can we get that into a sound bite?

“We’ve already spent enough time and money searching for a link and keep coming up empty. It’s time to stop wasting resources and move onto something productive.”

That is even good scientist speak!

wrt fluorescent lightin

Fluorescent lighting has been increasing it’s flicker rate. A modern CFL ranges from 10,000-24,000 Hz, a modern T8 w/ electronic ballast as high as 120,000 Hz. If it were the flicker rate, we should have seen a decrease in the autism rate since the mid-90s, not an (alleged) increase!

I’m sorry, I just can’t let this go on.

If you don’t count the massive amount of inductance and the response rate of the bulb itself, then you might be able to say it “goes dark”. Of course, you would then be smacked around by any decent electrical engineer in sight. There is an incredible amount of energy storage supplying the voltages and currents to a standard fluorescent bulb.

The same thing about the LED’s, though. The capacitance and inductance (some parasitic and some from the supporting circuitry) keep the LED from ever really going dark or light. A simple FFT of a real circuit (not the perfect environment that most analysis uses) will show that there are a lot of frequencies that will dim an LED, not just slower freq = dimmer or such.

James Sweet:
“But the frightened first time mom who thinks, ‘Well, maybe there is something to this… maybe I should talk to my doctor about an alternative vaccination schedule?’, these are the people who are still very much reachable.”

I agree with this, having been one of those mothers. You don’t have to seek out the anti-vaccination paranoia, it’s already there, and it’s gotten into your thinking without your realization. It rears its head when you are confronted with the nurse handing you CDC papers, and it muddles your decision-making process. I don’t know how you get to that population of people, provide them with facts and evidence, and cut through the fear, but it’s an important thing to consider, and something I am considering.


A simple FFT of a real circuit (not the perfect environment that most analysis uses) will show that there are a lot of frequencies that will dim an LED, not just slower freq = dimmer or such.


I’m not talking about changing frequencies to adjust light output of LEDs. I’m talking about PWM, pulse-width-modulation. By using a square-wave (on/off), at a specific frequency say 1kHz, and turning the LED on for 50% of the time, and off for 50% of the time, you get about 30% of the light output that an LED would have if it was on 100% of the time. (The relationship between PWM duty-cycle variation and LED light output is not linear.)

I’m not talking about a sine-wave. I have no experience on how sine-wave frequency shifts change light output on LEDs. I don’t know of anyone who tries to dim LEDs that way, when PWM works so much better. Especially with the modern switching power supplies.

And, if you don’t believe me that LED’s do go entirely off during the off portion of the PWM cycle go ahead and take a high-speed film and slow it down and look at it. If your circuit allows that much current through an LED during the off portion of the cycle you have something else wrong with the circuit. I’m speaking from 15 year of automotive lighting design experience largely focused on using PWM to vary the light output of LEDs, not sitting at a bench doing FFT’s. The slew rate, i.e. time it takes an LED to go from on to off, is measured in nanoseconds.

BTW, thanks W. Kevin Vicklund @58. I haven’t paid attention to fluorescent lighting in the last decade or so. It’s good to know that the modern ballasts are running at a much higher frequency. Back in the day I used the 60Hz output from our fluorescent fixtures as a strobe to align reel-to-reel data tape recorders. (Hey, they were ancient when I got to them!) But I haven’t paid much attention to them recently.

I’m sure others have beaten me to it, and a Terminator too cliched anyway. Oh what the hell…

“…they cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bargained with. They feel no remorse, pity or mercy, and they absolutely will not stop their missions until they are done.

kittywampus: agreed completely.

I am somewhat faced with this right now. My wife and I are (as of a week ago Wed) expecting our second offspring. Obviously, we are very excited. I have been again hanging out in the pregnancy forums on-line (not, and so see a lot of discussions among moms. The topic of vaccines and autism has already come up, prompted by the Lancet retraction. Now, you have to be very careful in those places or get shunned, but fortunately, the response was generally very good, with just a few of the “H1N1 vaccine was too rushed” and crap like that.

There was only one real issue, with a mom (who I don’t like anyway) spouting about the problems with THIMERASOL, and she heard that vaccines that are stored on the shelf are bad (her sister in law had a bad reaction) and those stored in the fridge.

Well, I just responded with statement that thimerasol is not in any pediatric vaccines except for multidose flu vaccines, and then provided a little more info about how actually, Wakefield’s initial accusation was about the combined MMR, which never contained thimerasol, and that he stood to gain with his own, separated, vaccine.

So she gets all huffy (see my comment above about how moms are offended if you don’t blow fluff up their pants), about how she never said anything about MMR (it was a thread about Wakefield, for pete’s sake, it’s all about MMR), how vaccines from the shelf are bad blah, blah, blah, with a link to something like I don’t know the link, but I don’t trust it because edus are usually reserved for educational institutions, and someone grabbing a domain name like that has an agenda. I just came back with the link the FDA tables about thimerasol content in US vaccines (that I got from antiantivax – Thanks, Todd!) and described very clear with that data about how thimerasol is not present in pediatric vaccines except for multi-dose flu vials, as shown clearly here on the FDA website.

In the end, her steam diminishes, but she has to have the last word to say, “I’m still not taking any vaccine unless its from the fridge.” I held my tongue, but it would have been real easy to retort, “I don’t give a shit what you do, but don’t blame thimerasol, that has nothing to do with it.” The stupid thing is, in principle a thimerasol containing vaccine COULD be stored in the fridge, and she wouldn’t have any problem with it. A case where a little knowledge is dangerous.

But the point is that I provided a very clear demonstration that thimerasol is not present in vaccines, and so was hopefully able to allay some fears (for the non dingbats) about it, without having to resort to telling them that their concerns were unfounded.


good info. however, Si and Ge aren’t used in LEDs because they are indirect bandgap materials. you need a direct bandgap semiconductor to have an efficient radiative transition probability. depending on the color of the LED, whether on the red or blue side of the spectrum, you will use different material systems. for red, AlGaAs and related alloys are used. for the blue side InGaN and related alloys used. by varying the semiconductor composition, for instance changing the Al %, you can vary the bandgap energy to get LED emission closer to the green portion of the spectrum. however, changing the semiconductor compostion too much introduces defects and strain which decrease the efficiency of the radiative transitions. that is why green LEDs are much lower efficiency than available red or blue LEDs. II-VI semiconductors show promise for making efficient green LEDs.

Hello friends –

Many of the ‘famous’ people described here may be unreachable. However, there may be some ways you could achieve some of your goals with people who might fall under the influence of the McCarthys and/or Wakefields. It will require some intellectual honesty, and that’s the big problem; a lot of the core arguments in use don’t stand up to simple logical tests, and indeed, many appear to be intentionally deceptive.

1) Stop pretending that studying thimerosal or the MMR can equate to “vaccines in general”, whatever that means. Making this tired argument is absolutely a gift to the likes of JB Handley, and it is something that gets done all over the place, including this blog.

For a bunch of people that are supposedly scientists, this is disingenious to say the least; and this shell game ridiculousness is plainly visible to anyone who does any reading. Right or wrong, people raising children with autism do a lot of reading, and this argument is a surefire way to lose credibility. I am here to tell you, it does not matter how badly JB fucks up the details on his 14 studies site when the person arrives there after reading somewhere else that the vaccine question has been answered. The core argument he makes, that vaccination hasn’t been studied regarding long term neurological changes, stands up. That’s not good.

Shifting goalposts towards ethical concerns or explaining the complexities of performing such quality analysis are difficult tasks, but not nearly as insurmountable as convincing someone that you weren’t lying to them when you tried to tell them that studying the MMR or thimerosal is equivalent to studying the vaccine schedule. These are arguments that have to be made up front, not only after it is implicitly acknowledged that vaccination hasn’t really been studied. All the nuance and defendable science in the world is no good once someone is convinced you are a liar.

The medical community is in a tough position here, I believe the concerns over herd immunity are appropriate and I’d imagine there is a general belief that it might cause a lot more distrust to admit to this. But it doesn’t matter, this is an acknowledgement that is going to have to be made sooner or later; in the meantime, the question is, do you allow folks like JB to have that yelling point or do you get in front of the situation?

2) Start acting like the observed increases in autism are a crisis so important that it doesn’t matter if diagnostic changes have impacted rates as artifacts; in other words, acknowledge that the ramifications of an actual increase, no matter how small of a percentage of what is observed, is a big, big deal.

There aren’t many people arguing that the entire observed increase is real; there are a few, but your goal needs to be reaching the moderates. But even the moderates realize that there are only two ways to interpret the history of our prevalance data:

a) The entire suite of prevalance studies available to us previously were bound by such monumental problems that they all missed huge swaths of the autism population, and all of our observations are the result of artifacts.

b) We are observing a true increase in prevelance of some unknown amount.

For example, Fombonne released a metadata study in 2008, just two years ago that found prevelance in the 60/70 – 10,000 range.

Great. But then a few months ago, the CDC comes out with 100 in 10,000K numbers, meaning that Fombonne must have been missing 30 – 40 per 10,000; or nearly half of his population.

It is possible that the studies Fombonne used were serial undercounting cases. While such a thing is possible, it is a difficult position to defend when your only defense is that all of our previous evaluations were wildly inaccurate, and also I have a quirky uncle that loves computers that would have been diagnosed today, but don’t worry.

When this discrepancy is brought up, the only real answer that doesn’t involve an actual increase is that, hey, our old studies didn’t take into consideration “greater awareness” very well. Occassionally you’ll see the argument made that any true increase must be minor. How do we know it is minor? By relying on artifacts that cannot be empiricized with any quality and seem capable of soaking up whatever prevelance numbers they come into contact with; like the Bounty of autism rates. Got a bigger spill? Get a bigger sponge!

It reminds me of when Bush kept on saying things like:

“The generals haven’t told me they need more troops to secure Bagdad.”

When the question back to him should have been,

“Did you ask the generals what it would take to secure Bagdad?”

Our real question should be, “What amount of a real increase in autism constitutes a health emergency?” Once you admit this is a meanignful question, however, the frailty of using the greater awareness crutch as an answer to our ever increasing observation rates becomes clear, and the credibility of those that use it is called into question when somehow everyone knows a friend of co-worker who is raising a child with autism.

Those are some of my ideas anyways.

– pD


Of course! I tend to write far too much too quickly then edit down and missed the material change when I stopped discussing straightforward silicon and germanium diodes (a discussion about both normal and zener, subsequently edited out) and leaped into LEDs. My bad.

I’m trying hard not to be as loquacious as Orac himself.


1. There’s never been any reason to believe that “vaccines in general” are a cause for concern, and they ARE as carefully safety tested as any other drug. If you insist on attempting to refute “vaccines in general” linked to autism, in the absence of any reason to suspect they are, you must also insist on refuting cough syrup as a cause of autism. And skateboards. And airplanes. It just doesn’t make any sense at all.

MMR, thimerosal, etc. get specifically studied because that’s what the claims are made about.

2. So we should ignore the question of whether or not there is a real increase and assume there is. With no grounds for doing so. Because yes, it’s very, very, very easy to believe that earlier studies and later studies can get that level of difference without a real increase in incidence, if you understand the studies.

Ultimately, your entire post boils down to “we should completely ignore the facts and act like the concern du jour is necessarily true simply because some idiots have chosen to promote it.”


Glad my site could help. And as an FYI to those who consider trying to get through to the AoA crowd, I’ve created a new site, Silenced By Age of Autism. It’s a place where you can cross-post your comments from Age of Autism, in the event they decide to censor you.

Just posted a comment on an article by Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey.

It looks like it’s easy for a skeptic to agree with Mooney, until Mooney stumbled into that skeptic’s raison d’etre.

pD, did you really just accuse scientists of shifting the goalposts and playing a shell game? You have that 100% backwards. It’s the antivaxxers who have historically moved the goalposts as their hypotheses get knocked over. “It’s thimerosal!” “It’s aluminum!” “It’s antifreeze!” “It’s this one vaccine!” “It’s all vaccines!” “It’s too many too soon!” Nice work twisting that around, though … I’m sure you’ll convince some people that there’s merit to what you’re saying.

I’m speaking from 15 year of automotive lighting design experience largely focused on using PWM to vary the light output of LEDs, not sitting at a bench doing FFT’s. The slew rate, i.e. time it takes an LED to go from on to off, is measured in nanoseconds.

And precious few of them, at that. There are these things called “optocouplers,” after all, made of an LED and a photoreceptor switch. I was making them switch in nanoseconds almost forty years ago, and they’ve gotten faster since.

I’m not sure what the incentive for building bridges with these crazies are.

If there are parents out there that are so completely clueless to trust a washed-up stripper with silly anecdote rather than medical professionals with real, significant scientific data- so be it. Intelligence has a large hereditary basis. I figure in a few generations, humanities’ genetics might be better for just letting the stupid engage in a self-destructive activity (like anti-vaxxing and feeding kids industrial cleaners).

Stop pretending that studying thimerosal or the MMR can equate to “vaccines in general”, whatever that means

I might agree, but I have to say, we aren’t the ones doing that!

We aren’t the ones who have moved from “MMR causes autism” to “all vaccines are bad.”

Whenever the question of the flu vaccine comes up by the anti-vax nuts that show up here, I always ask the same question: MMR at least has an association with the onset of autism symptoms, and so at least has the possibility of creating a post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. However, as far as I know, know one ever has ever suggested that the flu vaccine is associated with anything, much less autism! So why the big outrage, especially among the AoA-type community?

No one has ever answered that, and just whine about Desiree Jennings. We are the ones who keep pointing out that thimerasol is not present in pediatric vaccines, so what does that have to do with anything?

No, it is the anti-vaxxers that keep throwing up red-herrings. They rely on the autism scare to get everyone opposed to vaccines, despite the vaccines that only MMR has ever been associated with autism (incorrectly). Thimerasol is a red-herring, and moot, anyway, since it isn’t used. DTaP (like prevnar) is given already at 2 months, long before autism symptoms, so all those who say, “My son was fine until he got the MMR shot” have vindicated DTaP. etc

We focus on MMR and thimerasol because those are the ones that are actually the issue. Constantly bringing in other vaccines is total obfuscation.

I’m sure others have beaten me to it, and a Terminator too cliched anyway. Oh what the hell…

“…they cannot be reasoned with, cannot be bargained with. They feel no remorse, pity or mercy, and they absolutely will not stop their missions until they are done.”

Actually, in a rare bit of self-restraint I intentionally refrained from making just that Terminator reference. 🙂

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