Antivaccine nonsense Autism Medicine

And global warming is caused by the decrease in the number of pirates or: Why an inorganic chemistry journal should not publish a vaccine epidemiology paper

In my eagerness to pivot back to an area of my interest after having had a little fun with anti-vaccine cranks, I ignored a paper to which several of my readers referred me over the last few days. Many of them had first become aware of it when everybody’s favorite smugly condescending anti-vaccine crank, Ginger Taylor, started pimping it on her blog. Before that, it apparently popped up on the only anti-vaccine site almost as loony as Age of Autism, namely SaneVax, and it wasn’t long before this paper started making the rounds of the anti-vaccine crankosphere, showing up at Gaia Health, and then just yesterday the anti-vaccine propaganda blog Age of Autism. It was at that point that I decided that I had made a mistake in not taking a look at this article; so I was more than happy to do so. Given that most of the blogs I’ve seen pimping this article include the entire abstract, I think I’ll do the same thing, so that there’s at least a hope that a skeptical word will show up on Google searches for this article or for the author’s name:

Do aluminum vaccine adjuvants contribute to the rising prevalence of autism?

Tomljenovic L, Shaw CA.

Neural Dynamics Research Group, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia, 828 W. 10th Ave, Vancouver, BC, Canada V5Z 1L8.

Autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are serious multisystem developmental disorders and an urgent global public health concern. Dysfunctional immunity and impaired brain function are core deficits in ASD. Aluminum (Al), the most commonly used vaccine adjuvant, is a demonstrated neurotoxin and a strong immune stimulator. Hence, adjuvant Al has the potential to induce neuroimmune disorders. When assessing adjuvant toxicity in children, two key points ought to be considered: (i) children should not be viewed as “small adults” as their unique physiology makes them much more vulnerable to toxic insults; and (ii) if exposure to Al from only few vaccines can lead to cognitive impairment and autoimmunity in adults, is it unreasonable to question whether the current pediatric schedules, often containing 18 Al adjuvanted vaccines, are safe for children? By applying Hill’s criteria for establishing causality between exposure and outcome we investigated whether exposure to Al from vaccines could be contributing to the rise in ASD prevalence in the Western world. Our results show that: (i) children from countries with the highest ASD prevalence appear to have the highest exposure to Al from vaccines; (ii) the increase in exposure to Al adjuvants significantly correlates with the increase in ASD prevalence in the United States observed over the last two decades (Pearson r=0.92, p<0.0001); and (iii) a significant correlation exists between the amounts of Al administered to preschool children and the current prevalence of ASD in seven Western countries, particularly at 3-4months of age (Pearson r=0.89-0.94, p=0.0018-0.0248). The application of the Hill's criteria to these data indicates that the correlation between Al in vaccines and ASD may be causal. Because children represent a fraction of the population most at risk for complications following exposure to Al, a more rigorous evaluation of Al adjuvant safety seems warranted.

If you want to read the whole article, it’s available as a PDF file on a website called the Office of Medical and Scientific Justice (OMSJ). I thought I knew all the major quackery websites out there, but somehow I had never come across this one before. It appears to be a doozy, posting a glowing review of the anti-vaccine movie whose misinformation and pseudoscience I deconstructed three weeks ago, attacks on Brian Deer for his exposing Andrew Wakefield for the fraud he is, and, in a classic case of crank magnetism, a heapin’ helpin’ of anthropogenic global warming denialism.

Already, things aren’t looking too good.

Still, I pride myself on always going straight to the source when examining studies like this that are being bandied about the anti-vaccine underground. Who knows? Maybe I’ll find something to change my mind. True, it’s highly unlikely, but you never know. I was, however, curious just who the authors are. Christopher Shaw, I had heard of before. He was featured in the anti-vaccine propaganda movie The Greater Good and gave a talk at the anti-vaccine conference in Jamaica featuring Andrew Wakefield in January. His co-author Lucija Tomljenovic is apparently a postdoctoral fellow who was also a speaker at that very conference, giving two talks there.

So let’s get to the meat of the article, such as it is. Personally, after reading it a thought kept going through my head, namely that chemistry journals (particularly journals devoted to inorganic chemistry) probably shouldn’t be publishing medical articles. The editors and peer reviewers, so enamored with an apparently strong correlation, fell for the oldest crank gambit in the book: Confusing correlation with causation. Perhaps the most irritating part of the article is how Tomljenovic and Shaw misuse and abuse Hill’s criteria, a famous set of nine criteria postulated by Sir Austin Bradford-Hill for assessing the plausibility and likelihood of a particular correlation indicating causation. I discussed Bradford-Hill’s criteria before when Andrew Weil also misused and abused them.

Perhaps the silliest aspect of this article is Table I, in which Tomljenovic and Shaw try to convince you that the inflammatory aspects of various autoimmune diseases share aspects with inflammation provoked by aluminum adjuvants. Of course, I’d be shocked if some autoimmune diseases didn’t share some aspects of inflammation provoked by aluminum adjuvants or even vaccines in general. Inflammation is a common process that can be provoked by many things. I could tell you that the cytokine profiles that Tomljenovic and Shaw point to as being so “similar” to cytokine profiles due to aluminum adjuvants are the same sorts of cytokine profiles that result from almost any sort of injury. If, for example, as a surgeon I cut open your abdomen in order to rearrange your anatomy for therapeutic intent, I bet I could find studies with cytokine profiles that I could tenuously compare to cytokine profiles due to vaccination with aluminum-containing vaccines. For example, Tomlijenovic and Shaw point out that inflammatory bowel disease results in “Increased NLRP3 inflammasome complex signaling and NLRP3-dependent over- production of IL- 1β, IL-6, IL-18, TNF- α and reactive oxygen species (ROS) in MS, EAE, Type 1 diabetes mellitus [164-166] and animal models of IBD [167],” while the aluminum adjuvant can similarly “activate the NLRP3 inflammasome complex and NLRP3- dependent cytokines [33,34,172].” This is not in the least bit surprising, given that the NLRP3 system is activated by a wide range of “danger signals.”

In fact, perusing the chart I’m struck by how tenuous the resemblances between inflammation due to autoimmune diseases and inflammation due to aluminum adjuvants is. Presumably this is the best these two could come up with, and their best just isn’t all that convincing. None of this stops the not-so-dynamic duo from including autism and Gulf War Syndrome on their list. The latter they characterize as being “specifically recognized as ‘Autoimmune/inflammatory syndrome induced by adjuvants,” which is news to me given that I thought the emerging consensus was that Gulf War Syndrome probably doesn’t exist as a single distinct syndrome but rather as many health problems with different etiologes, much less is it recognized as some sort of autoimmune syndrome caused by vaccine adjuvants. After all, none of the anthrax vaccines soldiers received prior to going to the Gulf used squalene adjuvants. Meanwhile, autism spectrum disorders are listed in the chart as being “linked to Al-adjuvanted vaccines.” I suppose that’s true in the literal sense in that anti-vaccine activists have linked ASDs to Al-adjuvanted vaccines, but what Tomlijenovic and Shaw are doing is what lawyers like to call assuming “facts not in evidence.” Again, there is no solid evidence linking vaccines, whether Al-adjvanted or not, to autism, and several large epidemiological studies that have utterly failed to find a link between vaccines and autism. Where were the peer reviewers here?

The “evidence” in the paper consists mainly of Tomlijenovic and Shaw comparing increasing ASD prevalence to the increasing number of vaccines in vaccine schedules in various countries, their argument being that increasing doses of aluminum through vaccines correlates with increasing prevalence of ASD. Basically, they collected data on ASD diagnoses for children from ages 6-21, from 1991-2008 from the US Department of Education Annual Reports for ASD prevalence. Next, they tried to correlate the autism prevalence in this group with the cumulative aluminum dosage they received before age 6 through the pediatric vaccination schedule. They then basically did the most simplistic analysis imaginable, plotting the minimum, mean, and maximum aluminum exposures against ASD prevalence. Can you say “ecological fallacy”? Sure, I knew you could.

To recap, because I haven’t had to discuss it in a while, the ecological fallacy can occur when an epidemiological analysis is carried out on group level data rather than individual-level data. In other words, when the group is the unit of analysis, the chances of finding a false positive correlation go way, way up, as happened with a bad study trying to correlate vaccines with infant mortality. As Epiwonk once described it:

To make this jump from group-level to individual-level data is The Ecological Fallacy, which can be defined simply as thinking that relationships observed for groups necessarily hold for individuals.

The ecological fallacy was first described by the psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1938 in a paper entitled, “On the fallacy of imputing the correlations found for groups to the individuals or smaller groups composing them.” (Kind of says it all, doesn’t it.) The concept was introduced into sociology in 1950 by W.S. Robinson in 1950 in a paper entitled, “Ecological correlations and the behavior of individuals,” and the term Ecological Fallacy was coined by the sociologist H.C. Selvin in 1958. The concept of the ecological fallacy was formally introduced into epidemiology by Mervyn Susser in his 1973 text, Causal Thinking in the Health Sciences, although group-level analyses had been published in public health and epidemiology for decades.

Add to this the fact that, for all the authors’ claims that they controlled for confounding factors, by falling for the ecological fallacy they allowed huge confounders into their analysis. Even worse, they appeared to make no attempt to control for birth cohort other than to remove vaccines from their calculations that hadn’t been introduced into the schedule at the time the children were vaccinated. (How nice of them.) In any case, although the diagnostic criteria used for autism and ASDs were set in 1994 in the DSM-IV, screening in schools, increased availability of services, and decreasing stigma to a diagnosis of autism led to an explosion in autism diagnoses. The way to control for this would have been to examine much more narrowly defined birth cohorts. They didn’t. They used a single 15-year period. They also did nothing more than look for a linear correlation between aluminum dose and autism prevalence, citing r = 0.92, instead of calculating r2. The authors are incredibly impressed by this (and apparently so were the reviewers), even though it’s not so hard to produce high Pearson coefficients for a lot of seeming correlations that in fact don’t have anything to do with each other. The most heinous example I can recall is a ham-handed attempt to correlate abortion rates with breast cancer incidence.

Tomlijenovic and Shaw’s article does exactly the same thing, only slightly slicker.

Given how common papers like this are from anti-vaccinationists are, I sometimes think it would be fun to play a game I’d like to call “Name That Correlation!” What other correlations with the increase in autism diagnoses can we find over the last 20 or 30 years? Let’s see. Personal computer use has been rising since the 1980s. Perhaps that’s the cause of autism! More similar to Tomlijenovic and Shaw’s time frame, Internet use has exploded since the early 1990s. Back in 1990, few people had Internet access or e-mail addresses. (As hooked in as I am now, believe it or not, I didn’t have Internet access back then, either.) Now almost everyone does, and Internet access has become truly mobile via smartphones like the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android handsets. I bet a nice correlation between Internet usage and autism diagnoses could be constructed. Come to think of it, mobile phones, although first introduced in the 1980s, didn’t really begin to take off until the mid-1990s. In the early 1990s, mobile phones were uncommon because they were so expensive and coverage was very spotty. Now, the nearly everybody owns one. The time frame of Tomlijenovic and Shaw’s study fits the time frame of the rise of mobile phone use almost perfectly!

Finally, Tomlijenovic and Shaw misuse and abuse Bradford-Hill’s criteria. For example, they list criteria numbers one and two as being satisfied for aluminum and autism. Those are strength and consistency. The problem with these criteria is that they aren’t supposed to be evaluated by one study. They conclude their association is strong because they have a high Pearson correlation coefficient, but their study is an outlier. It’s not correct to say that the correlation is strong based on the totality of the evidence. Ditto for consistency, as, again, their study is an outlier, and, quite frankly, citing DeLong’s execrably embarrassing study as a study that found a correlation between vaccine uptake and autism does not help their case. They also try to convince readers that one of Bradford-Hill’s other criteria, such as biological rationale and coherence, have been met because of their attempt to make the tortuous vague resemblances between cytokine profiles they constructed seem like strong evidence for biological plausibility. Even worse, they try to use their confusion of correlation with causation as an argument that there is a temporal relationship between the purported cause and the effect. No, it’s not. In fact, they have not convincingly met any of Bradford-Hill’s criteria, much less eight out of nine.

None of this stops them from calling for–you guessed it!–more research:

Clearly, we cannot draw definite conclusions regarding the link between Al adjuvants and autism based on an ecological study such as the present one and hence the validity of our results remains to be confirmed. A case control study with detailed examination of vaccination records and Al body burden measurements (i.e., hair, urine, blood) in autistic and a control group of children would be one step toward this goal. Nonetheless, given that the scientific evidence appears to indicate that vaccine safety is not as firmly established as often believed, it would seem ill advised to exclude pediatric vaccinations as a possible cause of adverse long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes, including those associated with autism.

Notice the wording. “It would seem ill-advised to exclude vaccines” and “vaccine safety is not as firmly established as often believed.” It’s the old anti-vaccine tactic of sowing fear, uncertainty, and doubt about vaccines based on highly dubious science and then calling for more studies of a hypothesis that scientists, despite having looked extensively, have been unable to find any convincing evidence to support. The authors then communicate with sympathetic anti-vaccine bloggers in order to try to use their “science” to persuade government officials that more research is needed:

This study by Tomljenovic and Shaw provides convincing evidence of a strong relationship between the aluminum adjuvant frequently used in vaccinations and the increasing burden of childhood vaccinations. Even more significantly, it makes a highly plausible case for vaccines’ aluminum adjuvant as a cause of autistic spectrum disorders.

The only question is whether it should be considered a final determination. If one takes the view that only a double-blind placebo-controlled study can demonstrate the truth, then it will never be found. Conventional medicine refuses to do such studies in vaccinations. The claim is that it would be unethical to refuse the benefits of a vaccination. Of course, the consideration of harm from vaccinations is somehow not factored into the scenario. The results of this study, of course, demonstrate that the views of medical ethicists are strongly biased towards assumptions of the infallibility of their treatments.

Ah, I love the way anti-vaccine propagandists whine about basic ethical considerations in clinical trials and try to paint vaccines as somehow “privileged” in how they are treated.


In personal communcation with Tomljenovic, I have been informed that they are doing animal experiments to further test the aluminum-adjuvant-as-an-ASD cause hypothesis. They would also like to do a human investigation involving comparison of individual medical records of vaccinations with aluminum body burdens. However, this is very costly and the funds are not yet available.

Great. It looks as though we have a new Mark and David Geier, only substituting aluminum instead of mercury. I guess we can look forward to a lot more bad science. Oh, well. I guess it will guarantee that I’ll have blogging material for years to come. Unfortunately.

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]

156 replies on “And global warming is caused by the decrease in the number of pirates or: Why an inorganic chemistry journal should not publish a vaccine epidemiology paper”

I’m more than happy to be corrected, but to me it seems that the main finding of a positive correlation between ASD prevalence and cumulative Al dose has a lot to do with to this one sentence in their methodology:

‘This rationale for using cumulative amounts of adjuvant Al in our analysis is also supported by the following observation: Al has been shown to persist at the site of injection from several months up to 8–10 years following vaccination in patients suffering from macrophagic myofasciitis, an autoimmune disease linked to Al vaccine adjuvants [53].’

So what this is saying is that the authors are making the assumption that for all individuals, the compound effectively accumulates with no elimination from the body, and that assumption is based on observations associated with macrophagic myofasciitis (MMF).

I don’t know anything about MMF, but some Info from WHO:

Q4. Does everyone vaccinated with an aluminium-containing vaccine have the MMF lesion?
A. Since muscle biopsies have only been carried out in patients with myopathic symptoms, there is currently no information on whether the characteristic localized histological pattern would be found in the healthy population after vaccination. It has been suggested that there might be a predisposed subset of individuals with impaired ability to clear aluminium from the deltoid muscle. Whether this reflects macrophagic dysfunction, or the tail-end of a normal population distribution of aluminium clearance and local tissue response, has not been determined.

It seems in general we don’t really know a lot about MMF, but it appears to be quite rare. From the MJA:

Macrophagic myofasciitis is characterised by the presence of sheets of macrophages in striated muscle, a few lymphocytes and inconspicuous muscle fibre damage. It is due to the persistence of vaccine-derived aluminium in the muscle at the injection site and the myofasciitis is localised to the injection site. Since macrophagic myofasciitis was first described in 1993,1 more than 200 cases have been identified in France, with only a few cases reported from other countries.2 This is the first case of macrophagic myofasciitis reported in Australia.

Macrophagic myofasciitis associated with vaccine-derived aluminium.
Shingde M, Hughes J, Boadle R, Wills EJ, Pamphlett R.
Med J Aust. 2005 Aug 1;183(3):145-6.
PMID: 16053418 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article
Related citations

Could it be possible that in fact most people don’t retain aluminium adjuvant in the tissues in the long-term? From Lindblad 2004:

In vivo clearing of aluminium adjuvants
Mammalian organisms are constantly being exposed to aluminium compounds in the environment. As a consequence aluminium is found in the blood and serum of humans and animals whether or not they have been vaccinated using aluminium adjuvants. The major source of this aluminium is apparently oral intake with food and drinking water. Martyn et al.,74 based on a study in Britain, calculated the average daily intake of aluminium by humans to be 5–10 mg. Individuals with normal renal functions would excrete this aluminium uptake with the urine. In contrast to other metallic ions, such as Zn++ and Mg++, aluminium apparently does not act as an essential trace element or coenzyme in normal metabolism. The clearing in vivo of aluminium adjuvants has been investigated in rabbits using adjuvants prepared from the isotope 26Al.75 Blood and urine excreted 26Al was followed using accelerator mass spectroscopy for a period of 28 days. As early as 1 h after i.m. injection radioactive-labelled Al could be detected in the blood and approximately threefold more 26Al was excreted from animals vaccinated with aluminium phosphate than those vaccinated with aluminium hydroxide. Thus, it appears that interstitial fluid containing organic acids with an alpha-hydroxy carboxylic acid, which is able to chelate Al, react more readily with aluminium phosphate than with aluminium hydroxide.75 It is of interest that following injection of adjuvant containing 0.85 mg Al the normal plasma concentration of Al in rabbits (30 ng Al ml–1) only rose approximately 2 ng Al ml–1 during the experiment. Flarend75 calculated that a similar Al dose injected into humans, provided similar clearing kinetics existed, would lead to an estimated increase of serum Al of only 0.04 ng Al ml–1, which is equal to 0.8% above the normal level of approximately 5 ng Al ml–1. Based on these figures it appears unlikely that the amount of aluminium administered via vaccination would contribute significantly to the general exposure of humans to aluminium or to the serum levels of aluminium.

Aluminium compounds for use in vaccines.
Lindblad EB.
Immunol Cell Biol. 2004 Oct;82(5):497-505. Review.
PMID: 15479435 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE] Free Article
Related citations

Is cumulative Al dose really the right biomarker to use in any case, when the entire basis of your study is predicated on this assumption? As for the correlation coefficient – 0.92 – that seems really high. The coefficient of determination (r2) is 84% – so 84% of the variance is ASD prevalence is due to differences in Al exposure? That is really quite amazing – we can explain nearly all of the variation in ASD by in vivo aluminium. Wow! What about other effects? Could genetics play a role? Twin studies, for example have shown somewhere between 40-80% heritability for ASD, suggesting a good proportion of the variance in the disorder is due to non-environmental factors.

Then, regarding the plot (Figure 1) specifically, is that really the most trustworthy line of best fit one could find? There are effectively 3 values along the x-axis (for each exposure – min, mean and max) so not much variation to observe a legitimate trend.

I would be interested to hear what others think.

… citing r, not r-square…. where was I?

Just a couple of things, the OMSJ ( “scientific justice”?)
is the project of one Clark Baker, who has been known far and wide for his “investigations” of “corruption” amongst scientists *especially* those who deny the existence/ seriousness of the HIV and AIDS. He was a police officer in LA who has ascended to bigger and better “crime” stopping in academia and the medical world all through a rented mailbox . He has been a subject of discussion amongst those who combat drivel replacing data concerning HIV/AIDS. Oh yes!

On Gulf War “Syndrome”: various hypotheses have been trotted out in Woo-topia about illnesses Gulf War veterans suffered ( at first, limited to the first war, now both). Gary Null has been “investigating” these illnesses and has come up with a multi-factorial “theory” that involves ( what else!) contaminated, immune-suppressing vaccines given to the enlisted, contamination from burning oil, contamination from Uranium, and contamination( bad food, bad air, no supplements). He has even created a “documentary” on this very subject, “Killing Our Own” ( he comes up with such catchy titles, “AIDS, Inc”, “Vaccine-nation”,” Autism: Made in the USA”, ad nauseum and more on the way).

Interestingly enough, the two aforementioned investigators *know* each other! Will wonders ever cease?

Is cumulative Al dose really the right biomarker to use in any case, when the entire basis of your study is predicated on this assumption?

This kind of correlative study that cherry-picks one out of probably thousands of environmental factors that increased over the time period is obviously much worthless. But with respect to this one technical issue, I don’t see a big problem. One could also reasonably used cumulative dose based upon a probabilistic model in which there is some risk of an adverse outcome associated with each exposure (although in this case, number of injections would be a better measure), or something like a linear model such as is often used for radiation exposure, in which each molecule carries some small degree of risk.

Of course, this does not redeem the overall stupidity of the paper. I was particularly amused by the use of the old antivaccinationist shibboleth that exposure by injection is more dangerous than exposure from diet. To justify this, they point out that only a fraction of oral exposure is absorbed (while neglecting mentioning that due to the high dietary exposure, that fraction is still much greater than vaccine exposure), and also arguing that maybe the Al persists for long periods of time at the site of injection, only being slowly absorbed into the bloodstream. This might be relevant if the adverse effect being studies was something like ulcers at the injection site, but to be neurotoxic, it has to get to the brain, which means that it has to get into the bloodstream. So if a large fraction of the Al is tied up in deposits at the site of injection, being absorbed only slowly, that means that the blood levels will be low (in which case, obviously, vaccine derived Al in the blood will be will be dwarfed by Al derived from exposure, which is pretty much continuous).

Basically, they are making the same argument (Al is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream) for dietary Al and injected Al, but in the one case they use it to dismiss dietary Al, and in the other case they try to use it to argue that vaccine Al is more dangerous than would reasonably be expected given the tiny doses involved.

I agree that this is likely a case in which a chemical journal did not have access to reviewers with the biological and epidemiological expertise to realize that the paper is garbage.

Wow. What a case of one true cause of all disease they’ve got going. Aluminum causes autism, Gulf War syndrome, and MMF? And nobody noticed until now? We should ask Aluminum what it knows about the assassination of JFK. Dammit Aluminum, why did you do it?! Why?!

It’s amazing to me how anti-vaxers aren’t perturbed by the way the vaccine ingredient and mechanism of vaccine injury are constantly shifting targets. (Bowel virus! Foetal parts! Thimerosal! Formaldehyde! DNA! Al3+!) Never mind that the discoveries of their Brave Maverick Doctors (TM) are all wildly inconsistent with each other, as long as they reject the enormous body of research showing vaccines don’t cause autism, they believe it.

Well, I’m glad the…

Neural Dynamics Research Group, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, University of British Columbia

… is on the job doing epidemiology looking for causal factors in developmental disorders.

Those opthamologists and their mad epidemiological skillz. Whew!

Bugger off MD1970 and stay on topic, you have already derailed another thread so keep it there.

This study is precisely what the Geiers have done with thimerosal. Their use of paediatric vaccine schedules as opposed to what the children actually received mirrors the Geiers’ use of vaccines sold and autism prevalence. That’s just one problem and given what these hacks Shaw and Tomljenovic have published, it’s not surprising how they abuse epidemiology to play to their base.

At Denice,

I went to high school with him. I haven’t kept in touch and didn’t realize he was up to this level of nutcaseness (is that word?).

Ugh, now I feel dirty.

Since vaccines keep people alive and living people consume more fossil fuels than dead people, vaccines cause global warming. I should write a paper.

‘Scientific justice’ sounds like an ’80s action movie with Chuck Norris as a scientist who takes an evidence-based approach to cleaning up the streets.

A case control study with detailed examination of vaccination records and Al body burden measurements (i.e., hair, urine, blood) in autistic and a control group of children would be one step toward this goal.

Sounds like a job for Doctor’s Data Labs*

*The test results you want to see when want to see them. Positive results gauranteed.

Sounds like a job for Doctor’s Data Labs*

*The test results you want to see when want to see them. Any and all results possible depending on the fee.


@Science Mom,
Wannabe- your blog is rubbish.

And you’re a stinky poopy-head nah nah nah nah nah.

FFS, is that what you have to resort to? Keep up the good work, you’re such a credit to your religion.

The aluminum hypothesis is an especially amusing one, given that formula-fed babies (which is something like 75-85% of the population), ingest many thousands of times the amount of aluminum as is in the sum total of their under-two vaccines, and even exclusively breastfed babies ingest more. And though there are plenty of people protesting the use of baby formula, it’s not the autism folks, and the people who DO protest do not do so on the grounds of autism.

Sounds like a job for Doctor’s Data Labs*

The main author has his own company for that:
CAS is a founder and shareholder of Neurodyn Corporation, Inc.
The company investigates early state adult neurological disease
mechanisms and biomarkers.

The “evidence” in the paper consists mainly of Tomlijenovic and Shaw comparing increasing ASD prevalence to the increasing number of vaccines in vaccine schedules in various countries, their argument being that increasing doses of aluminum through vaccines correlates with increasing prevalence of ASD.

It’s even worse than that. They look at changes over time only in the US data. The international data is used the same way that terrible Generation Rescue ‘study’ did it a couple of years ago, looking only at prevalence vs estimated exposure by country. And this study makes the same elementary mistakes that one did, too.

For starters, they’ve got at least one of the vaccine schedules badly wrong. They have the UK schedule giving three doses of HepB vaccine by the age of two months; in fact, HepB isn’t on the UK schedule at all. It’s given only to high-risk groups. That one mistake leads them to overestimate exposure by the age of 2 months by a factor of about 2, and exposure by 6 months by about 40%.

More damningly, however, their prevalence values are all over the place. All prevalences below in cases/10,000 of population.

They report an ASD prevalence of around 12 in Finland and Iceland; neither figure is correct. The figure for Iceland comes from a ten-year-old study which clearly states that it’s looking at the severe end of the spectrum; Asperger’s syndrome isn’t included at all, for example. A more recent study estimates a prevalence of 54.2 – more than four times higher. And that study looked only at cases with existing diagnoses, which means it’s likely an underestimate.

The figure for Finland also comes from an older paper which makes it clear that high-functioning cases are likely missed. And again, there’s a more recent study giving a higher figure; this time 84.

And the same pattern continues. They give a prevalence of 53.4 for Sweden; a more recent study gives 80 – in two-year-olds alone.

Their figure of 62.5 for Australia is particularly amusing, coming as it does from a study whose conclusion is that “…the prevalence of ASD in Australian children cannot be estimated accurately from existing data.” That figure is lifted from a table of nine different values, for each combination of three different (consecutive!) years and three different age groups. The figure they chose to use is the largest of the nine.

In short, it’s the usual trick. Cherry pick the figures you want to get the results you’ve already decided on. Boring.


Wannabe- your blog is rubbish.

Which can be also said of your ignorant comments. Have you figured out what a standard deviation of a normal curve is yet?

In their Figure 1, the authors are plotting ASD incidence in each year (1991-2008) against total aluminium content for the pediatric schedule *in that year*. Not (as you might expect) the aluminium exposure for the ASD cases themselves, according to the pediatric schedules of 6 to 21 years previously, but no, that same year.

In effect they are looking for a correlation between the number of people who developed ASD decades earlier, and the number of vaccinations given to other children, in the current year. This is an interesting model of causality!

During the period 1991-2008, reported ASD rises steadily (as indeed does the total population). The authors define three sub-periods (according to two changes in the pediatric vaccination schedule), then argue that the criteria for that division is causing the rise, even though it’s a continuous increase rather than forming three neat plateaux as their hypothesis predicts.

This really is incredibly bad.

Oh Cripes. I (stupidly) took the time to read Ginger Taylor’s blog…including her chronological diary (descent into woo), of her experiences with her young son diagnosed with autism.

Ginger is also heavily into religion and takes every opportunity to discuss her Christian belief system:

“So in “Autism in God’s Economy” over the next six days I will discuss a few things that the Bible tells us about God’s perspective on those with Autism and on the rest of us. This series is predicated on the deity of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture, which may be controversial ideas to some of my regular visitors. If they are to you, I invite you to read on none the less, and take a look at what God of the Bible says. If you are a professing Christian, then this is an important series for you to read no matter how autism affects you.” (Autism in God’s Economy: The Least of These-April 30, 2007)

What a non-issue this “macrophagic myofasciitis” is. It is a symptom looking for a disease or disorder. It hasn’t been linked to M.S. or GWS…so it’s time to link it to autism.

The anti-vaxers having run through the “usual suspects” (antigens, immune-system disorders, “too many too soon”, squalene, formaldehyde, chopped up aborted babies, thimerisol and measles vaccine chronic colitis) are now pinning their hopes on traces of aluminum in vaccines being linked with autism.

Now, if they could just convince a few members of Congress to demand and fund an aluminum adjuvant-associated-autism study….

Holy crap. I didn’t even notice that in Figure 1. I must have mentally just assumed that they were doing at least right enough that they’re not comparing vaccine schedules in the same year as autism diagnoses. I probably just unconsciously filled in what I assumed they did, maybe because I couldn’t believe they would be that idiotic to do it the way you describe.

Mea culpa. I should have noticed. I guess I just gave these two clowns the benefit of the doubt. They clearly don’t deserve it.

@Science Mom,
Wannabe- your blog is rubbish.

Are those stories about children dying of SSPE making you a little – umm – uncomfortable?

I must have mentally just assumed that they were doing at least right enough that they’re not comparing vaccine schedules in the same year as autism diagnoses.

They’re explicit (section 3.2) that they’re calculating “Al exposure from vaccines in the US vaccination schedule from 1991 to 2008”.

Since macrophagic myofasciitis was first described in 1993,1 more than 200 cases have been identified in France, with only a few cases reported from other countries.2
IIRC most of those 200 French cases were identified by the same research group. Evidently it’s something you need to be trained to observe. Like UFO abductions.

My first reaction was how could an inorganic chemistry journal publish this? But, it looks like it is not at all unusual. In fact, this article appears in a special issue that could probably give Orac enough bloggin material for a month.

Other “highlights” of the issue include an article about aluminum-containing deodorants causing breast cancer and aluminum chelation therapy for alzheimers.

Presumably, this was once a respectable journal…

herr doktor bimler

IIRC most of those 200 French cases (of macrophagic myofasciitis) were identified by the same research group. Evidently it’s something you need to be trained to observe. Like UFO abductions.

Well duh – Obvioulsy macrophagic myofasciitis is due to an immune reaction to the alien implants placed during UFO abductions.

Given the serious, obvious flaws in the paper, I wonder if Orac’s ‘friend’ would consider it worthwhile to submit a comment eviscerating it.

I believe the layman’s term for macrophagic myofasciitis is “sore arm.”
Here Chris links to an earlier discussion of MMF, in which it was mentioned that Gherardi’s group — the discoverers of the condition — are now reduced to publishing in Medical Hypotheses.

My first reaction was how could an inorganic chemistry journal publish this?
The References list cites a 2009 paper in this same journal, from Gherardi’s group, again reporting the MMF epidemic.
In fact Gherardi et al. and MMF turn up in the References 5 times (including the Medical Hypotheses paper).

MartinM. @25: Cherry pick the figures you want to get the results you’ve already decided on.

To extend the fruit metaphor: the authors are taking figures (e.g. from the Icelandic study of autism) that are explicitly labelled “These are Oranges: Do not mix with Apples”, and comparing them with apples anyway.

Yes, that comment is also very stupid, but this is not a general discussion of flagrantly stupid things that people have said.

The law of the instrument presumably applies.

I believe the layman’s term for macrophagic myofasciitis is “sore arm.”

You mean like the one I’ve got now after getting my flu shot? Yeesh. For people who are so dismissive of science, alties sure like sciencey-sounding names for ordinary aches and pains.

Never fails, when provacs get nervous about vaccine studies, the start twisting the truth until its unrecognizable. They talk complete nonsense about anything but the subject at hand and conclude with” see antivaxxers are wrong”. Look around, measles and chicken pox outbreaks all over. Parents aren’t listening to dolts like ORAC, they aren’t stupid enough to. They are taking back the ever shrinking rights of parents to choose whats best for their children and the trend is growing rapidly. Pharma paid antagonists like ORAC are heroes to the blind sheeple who need a leader like Jim Jones. Careful what ORAC offers you, it might be deadly.

Ah, yes. If only there was an Epidemiology Night School where these ophthalmologists could learn about the ecological fallacy?

If only.

@ Ren: C.A. Shaw is not an ophthalmologist…according to the University of British Columbia website:

# B.S. (UC Irvine)
# M.Sc., Ph.D. (Hebrew U. of Jerusalem)
# Professor
# Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

Current research interests:
My laboratory’s key focus over the last few years has been on the unusual neurological disease of Guam and the Western Pacific, ALS-parkinsonism dementia complex (ALS-PDC). I view this disease as a kind of neurological Rosetta Stone able to unlock some of the key questions in neurological disease research. For example: what are the causes of ALS, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s and what are the pre-clinical stages of each? Our approach has been to create an in vivo animal model in which we can look at behavioural changes in motor and cognitive functions, as well as systems, cellular and biochemical modifications as the disease process emerges over time. We have identified a novel class of neurotoxins in the course of our initial studies and are now beginning to understand the toxic mechanisms of action that lead to the death of neurons in the spinal cord and brain. The overall goal of this work is to identify key etiological factors involved in sporadic neurological disease and the early stages of the disease process. From the first could come effective prophylaxis; from the latter, early phase treatment before irreversible damage to the CNS has been done.

A second theme to our work is to seek potential therapeutic agents for existing neurological disease states using the above, and other, animal models. In particular, we are focusing our attention on progranulin, a neuroepithelial growth factor, and on a class of molecules called ginsenosides. Preliminary data with progranulin suggests that the molecule can exert powerful neuroprotective effects and perhaps even reverse early phase neurodegeneration.

The last aspect of our work, and one that is still emerging, is to look at the potential for compounds such as aluminum to be neurotoxic. We are interested in the types of aluminum compounds that can cause neurodegeneration, their route of administration, the impact of dose and duration, and the crucial but largely unexplored aspects of age and sex. These studies are just beginning, but show great promise to help us understand the origin of neurological disorders as diverse as autism spectrum disorder and Alzheimer’s disease.

I doubt that this Ph.D who heavily into “aluminum” and the value of ***”ginsenosides” medicines would benefit from Ren’s night school epidemiology classes.

Ginsenosides are being developed by Neurodyn Corporation, Inc., the corporation identified by herr doktor bimler as being founded by C.A. Shaw who is also a shareholder in the corporation.

Sound familiar? Can you say Burzynski and antineoplastons?

Given how common papers like this are from anti-vaccinationists are, I sometimes think it would be fun to play a game I’d like to call “Name That Correlation!” What other correlations with the increase in autism diagnoses can we find over the last 20 or 30 years?

I do not believe that the relationship between autism incidence and the length of basketball shorts has been adequately explored. Just eyeballing, I’d say r>=.95 in this case.

I think it was Joseph of the old “Autism Natural Variation” blog who posited a reasonable causal connection between rising Internet usage and rising autism incidence: it made it a lot easier for parents who thought there was something a little off about their kid’s development to find other parents with the same concerns. This would then lead them to raise the issue of autism with their kids’ doctors, who might not have otherwise considered it if the presentation were non-stereotypical.

Really glad Orac and his minions have absolutely no influence on vaccine
policy-just frustrated, arrogant blowhards.
I will give them credit for at least posting links.

Really glad Orac and his minions have absolutely no influence on vaccine
policy-just frustrated, arrogant blowhards.
I will give them credit for at least posting links.

Great! Try this one.

Really glad Orac and his minions have absolutely no influence on vaccine
policy-just frustrated, arrogant blowhards.
I will give them credit for at least posting links.

Boy, that’s some million-candlepower projection there! What does the tail of a normal distribution look like again, genius?

I’m new to the blog, the tone is repellent-actually it brings out the worst in people.
As for having an impact in the real world, it’s like watching a train wreck.
There’s hardly any honest questioning or acceptance of anything except the DOGMA.

MD1970: If you find it so distasteful to read Orac’s blog and to read our comments…why do you?

absolutely no influence on vaccine policy

Shh there, MD1970. The Pharma companies are paying us well to organise the concerted pressure on journals and regulatory agencies that keeps the alt-med messages suppressed. Don’t let them know they’re wasting their money!

Back in the comments for the recent RI thread about an antivaxer denouncing research because it failed to fit her biases, we had a couple days ago pD speculating about how aluminum adjuvant in vaccines is trouble because we haven’t “evolved” with it, thus provoking a cytokine storm or some such and causing autism. This struck me as a weird claim given that aluminum was not invented in a mad scientist’s lab a few decades ago, but is the third most common element in the earth’s crust, an element we have been exposed to for eons.

Now I know why pD suddenly got brought up aluminum – this poorly thought out paper making the rounds of antivaxer sites.

Never mind the many, many exotic organisms that have appeared in America for example in recent decades, or the tons of new chemicals and devices coming on the scene, any of which we didn’t “evolve” with – it’s gotta be aluminum because, well

It’s gotta be the vaccines.

And so the antivaxer world turns.


There’s hardly any honest questioning or acceptance of anything except the DOGMA.

Do you or do you not accept the concepts of a normal distribution and standard deviation?

This struck me as a weird claim given that aluminum was not invented in a mad scientist’s lab a few decades ago, but is the third most common element in the earth’s crust, an element we have been exposed to for eons.

I was wondering a couple months ago why aluminum acted as an adjuvant. My speculation is that it is actually an evolved feature of the immune system. Consider: aluminum is present in most soils and dirt, but is not utilized by the body. Therefore, the presence of aluminum is a signal of something gone wrong, most likely a dirty wound. A stronger/quicker immune response in such a situation might be positively selected.

Note that this is of course mere speculation, running into the murky grounds of evo-psych.

Note that this is of course mere speculation, running into the murky grounds of evo-psych.

Not really, WKV. It would probably be impossible for silicon (usually as the dioxide) to trigger anything—too inert. Aluminum is the next element in abundance, our body has no use for it—perfect signal that something’s not right. What’s the next element in crustal abundance that our bodies don’t use? Titanium? Maybe somebody should test that as an adjuvant. The antivaxxers would obviously be just as happy to denounce titanium as aluminum, of course, but it’d be an interesting experiment. (The decline of whitewall tires didn’t effect a reduction in autism, but evidence has nothing to do with the matter anyway, I guess.)

I keep wondering if these people ever played as kids. How do you go through childhood without scraping a knee, hand or arm in the dirt? Have they ever jumped off the jungle gym into the surrounding sand? Have they ever been scratched by aluminum swing sets or chain link fence?

I remember a period in my childhood where I had to use the fingernail brush to get the dirt off of my knees, which usually had a healing scab. There are days in spring and summer that I still have to do that, but that is usually after a day of gardening. While I do wear gloves, I often stray away from the knee pad.

I think MD is using the wrong numbers in its name, there – should be 20/20. Nopony who is that convinced of a grand conspiracy involving us is sober.

Anyhow, tone troll, here’s your pearls and your fainting couch. Have at it.

@Chris- comment in moderation because of link.
Look up aluminum in soil. Can be toxic to growing roots of crops.

-btw- Clark Baker has another project: the HIV Innocence …*Group* ( see website/ also on OMSJ). Don’t worry someone is already on *his* case.

Be that as it may. As I survey the world of woo in my seven league boots, I stumble upon the same *personae non grata* and obsessive hypothesis spinning over and over. A better man than I remarked that if you look past the smoke and mirrors, you’ll find a *very small* coterie of anti-vaccinationists, AIDS denialists, or whatever else the nonsense may be, masquerading as a large group of qualified, dissident scientists.

And this remarkably small group of rabble rousers is incestuously inter-connected: look closely @ AoA, NVIC, the Canary Party, NJCVC, EBCALA, SafeMinds, and you’ll see the same names listed in many places. Similarly, if you go beyond the group ( e.g. like anti-vaxx) you’ll continue to see linkage to other groups**. Needless to say, these groups all share “data, studies, and information”. Marks are told that thousands of professionals agree about this data which might indeed be true- depending on how you define “thousands” and “professionals”. And “true”.

Increasingly, these groups advise their adherents to eschew the mainstream media and choose alternative media instead-“Don’t empower the Man!”: thus entrenched perspectives become more encapsulated. New media outlets ( an expanded NaturalNews and the ProgressiveRadioNetwork) speak beyond health issues, proselytising outre economics/politics to go with your out-there life science. I have sneaking suspicion that a few people will become even more rich whipping their audiences into a frenzy about the corrupt elite 1%ers after making money scaring the same faithful followers about cancer and vaccines.

** looks great as a Venn or flow chart.

ken, what part of aluminum being the third most abundant element on this planet’s crust did you not comprehend? And it is also the most common metal element on the crust.

Here is some reading for you: Public Health Statement for Aluminum:

Aluminum is the most abundant metal in the earth’s crust and it is widely distributed.

Aluminum is a very reactive element and is never found as the free metal in nature. It is found combined with other elements, most commonly with oxygen, silicon, and fluorine. These chemical compounds are commonly found in soil, minerals (e.g., sapphires, rubies, turquoise), rocks (especially igneous rocks), and clays.

Al your woo are belong to us.
You have no chance to survive make your time.
For great (medical and scientific) justice!

The Board of Health would like to remind you that ASD-repelling aluminium foil hats are for external use only.

The Board of Health would like to remind you that ASD-repelling aluminium foil hats are for external use only.

Well there’s your problem! </Adam Savage>

mellor and Very Reverend Battleaxe @63 and 64:

Aluminum foil just doesn’t do the trick:

This is funny at first glance, but on reflection I think it must be simply awful for these poor folks to have the thoughts they do. If the hat helps them find some peace, then by all means, they should wear it!


Please state clearly what you feel is being dogmatically propounded and unquestionably accepted here at Respectful Insolence with regard to the topic of this post.

Are you objecting to Orac’s deconstruction of this paper? If so, feel free to show how Orac’s criticisms are invalid or how the paper stands up to scrutiny.

“Global warming is caused by a decrease in the number of pirates…”

Hmm. That COULD happen. For example,the pirates’ activities could raise the price of fossil fuels, thus leading to less production of greenhouse gases, and conversely fewer pirates could lower gas prices and lead to more greenhouse gases. It certainly makes more sense than “immune disfunction” being a “core” feature of autism!

David N. Brown
Mesa, Arizona

As much as I hated taking epidemiology, I have to admit it was a very important class for my degree. Obviously Shaw and co. don’t share those views.

I’m beginning to think that aluminium is the Mitt Romney of alt-neurology. No-one can think of any particular point in its favour as an explanation for various neurological conditions, but all the other environmental-toxin theories are much, much crazier. Also there is a general feeling that it’s been around for long enough to deserve a turn.

@ Ren
If only there was then I could learn as well…
not that I think they’ll give a rats ass if there was one.

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