Anatomy Of A Health Scare.

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My blogpal Citizen Deux has an interesting post talking about how science is losing the media war. Here is the reason why – major popular media is not interested in hard / factual science. For example, here is Jenny McCarthy on Oprah talking about how she believes her son because autistic. Vaccines of coarse!

In recent years, the number of children diagnosed with autism has risen from 1 in every 500 children to 1 in 150—and science has not discovered a reason why. Jenny says she believes that childhood vaccinations may play a part. “What number will it take for people just to start listening to what the mothers of children who have seen autism have been saying for years, which is, ‘We vaccinated our baby and something happened.”

Jenny says even before Evan received his vaccines, she tried to talk to her pediatrician about it. “Right before his MMR shot, I said to the doctor, ‘I have a very bad feeling about this shot. This is the autism shot, isn’t it?’ And he said, ‘No, that is ridiculous. It is a mother’s desperate attempt to blame something,’ and he swore at me, and then the nurse gave [Evan] the shot,” she says. “And I remember going, ‘Oh, God, I hope he’s right.’ And soon thereafter—boom—the soul’s gone from his eyes.”

The culprit is supposed to be a component in the vaccine called thimerosal. This is the chemical component that is supposed to cause the dramatic increase in autism. Here is the problem with this conspiracy theory; while the diagnosis of autism has increased in recent years, the use of thimerosal in vaccines has decreased! The CDC report states:

Since the 1930s, it has been widely used as a preservative in a number of biological and drug products, including many vaccines, to help prevent potentially life threatening contamination with harmful microbes….

Later in the report, it’s noted:

Much progress has been made to date in removing or reducing thimerosal in vaccines. New pediatric formulations of hepatitis B vaccines have been licensed by the FDA, Recombivax-HB (Merck, thimerosal free) in August 1999 and Engerix-B (Glaxo SmithKline, thimerosal free) in January 2007. In March 2001 the FDA approved a second DTaP vaccine formulated without thimerosal as a preservative (Aventis Pasteur’s Tripedia, trace thimerosal). Aventis Pasteur, Ltd was also approved to manufacture a thimerosal-free DTaP vaccine, Daptacel, in 2002. In September 2001 Chiron/Evans was approved for manufacturing a preservative-free formulation of their influenza vaccine, Fluvirin, that contained trace thimerosal. In September of 2002, Aventis Pasteur, Inc was approved to manufacture a preservative-free formulation of their influenza vaccine, Fluzone that contained trace thimerosal, and in December 2004, a thimerosal-free formulation of Fluzone was approved. Two Td vaccines are also available in preservative-free formulations, Aventis Pasteur Inc’s Decavac, and Aventis Pasteur, Ltd’s Td vaccine.

The alarmist article states boldly that

“Banned around the world, but not in the United States

… Oh, really? I tried to find a list of countries that have banned it an found only a handful. And lets look at autism rates in some of the countries that do have the ban. Canada and Denmark are both experiencing a dramatic increase in autism rates. Here is the situation in Denmark:

…for the period 1971-1990, where thimerosal-containing vaccines were administered, there was no increase in prevalence, but that after its use was discontinued in 1992 there was an increase in prevalence. They concluded that their “study provides strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccination causes Autism”.

The last link also lists a similar results of other countries that have banned thimerosal. This is direct, real-world proof that thimerosal is not causing the surge in autism. Yet the anti-thimerosal movement lives on. It is based first on a basic misunderstanding of correlation vs causality. Remember the Bee Rapture this last summer? Well, it was blamed on cell phones – the use of cell phone has greatly increased in the US, the bees are dying, therefore, cell phones are causing the bees to die!!! It was later found to have been caused by a virus. The next component in this is the argument from authority, which is often relied upon when the science in question  s difficult for the average adult to understand,  and / or contains a ton of complicated math (my personal weakness). This doctor says thimerosal causes autism; he is a doctor, therefore, we must believe him. And you could have many doctors saying similar things, but that means nothing. You must rely on scientific empirical studies to guide your thoughts on science. The methodologies of those studies must be double-blind, replicateable and the data / coding (if computer models are used) must be open-source and available for scrutiny. And notice that is plural – NEVER rely on one single study! Third point, it – the cause of autism is still not know. We, as emotional beings, tend to grasp at straws to try and explain things that seem to have no answer. It is often comporting to find a scapegoat for these kind of mysteries, and that scapegoat in this case are corrupt government officials and big pharma. If you suspect that the anti-science shyster lawyer Robert Kennedy Jr. might rear his ugly head in this anti-thimerosal fraud, well, here he is. And here’s the detailed take-down. Dr. Steve Novella, who also does “The Skeptics Guide to the Universe” podcast, has also written an extensive article refuting the anti-thimerosal movement.

I feel for Jenny McCarthy and her struggle to raise an autistic child, but her belief in the cause of her son’s illness is NOT based on science, but in what she calls her “Mommy sense”! And because this conspiracy claptrap was presented on Oprah, that give validity the the dangers of thimerosal.

Dan Fogelberg (1951 – 2007)

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Here is his website announcement. In 1981, he released “Leader of the Band”, a tribute to his father, a band conductor in his day, and great influence on the son. The song is one of the better tribute song out there (another being “The Living Years” by Mike Rutherford). I had written a tribute song to my parents, but never got around to finishing it because, well, it just isn’t very good. Since I will have some free time in the next couple of weeks (no teaching due to X-mass break) I will finally get around to recording some stuff.

Anyway, here is a live performance of “Leader of the Band”.

[youtube cy3GHCy49Dw]

PS. My dad passed away one year ago as of Nov 29. I was going to post on it but decided that it was not the kind of “anniversary” that screams for a celebration. I figure I’ll write something about it when I get to my 3’rd year blogiversary.