New Published Study Verifies Andrew Wakefield’s Research on Autism – Except It Doesn’t

vaccineIt is interesting to see the way information spreads on the internet, especially when it comes to fringe beliefs. I saw the headline about the vaccine court confirming autism come around my social media circles the last couple of days (Warning!! Fringe websites: here, here, and here). As a believer in vaccines, I did have to look to see if there was some new news on vaccines.

It turns out this is recycled news that surfaced back in January. A piece in the Huffington Post written by David Kirby took what the US vaccine court said at the time and twisted it into an unrecognizable state. Luckily, Sharon Hill of Doubtful News and Orac at Science Blogs were all over it at the time. The court did not link the MMR vaccine and autism – but because autism and MMR were both mentioned in the same case, the logic used by the anti-vaccine crowd somehow connected them.

Fringe sites are now “re-reporting” these cases as new news. With headlines and leading paragraphs saying the court “quietly admitted a link between vaccines and autism” and similar statements, they continue to spread their brand of false information. Sometimes, it is hard to even find a legitimate motivation in doing so – meaning I don’t mind someone having a healthy skepticism and asking questions in order to do what’s best for a child – but when it seems there is almost a sinister attitude in denying the science, I get disgusted. Some of the fringe sites even went on tangents about autism and inflammatory bowel disease, even though the cases had no mention of any bowel diseases in them.

So what did the court actually say? As user Rob on the skeptics stackexchange points out from the actual court documents:

Petitioners specifically asserted that Ryan “suffered a Vaccine Table Injury, namely, an encephalopathy” as a result of his receipt of the MMR vaccination on December 19, 2003.

This makes more sense. Vaccines do carry a small risk of various health issues. About 1 in a million cause a serious health issue – and many of those do resolve after some time. The science shows the risk of not vaccinating is much greater than getting vaccinated. A good analogy would be air bags in a car. Airbags are known to cause deaths in rare cases. But a far greater number of people are saved. A 2007 NHTSA report showed that from 1990-2007, 284 people died from injuries caused by airbags, but 24,334 lives were saved. For vaccines, although a small number of people are injured, are far greater number are saved from injury or death. Literally millions of people have been saved from an early death due to vaccinations. We don’t take the airbags out of cars because of a few hundred deaths – because many more are saved. We shouldn’t stop vaccinating because of a small number of injuries because far more people are saved by them.

Steven Novella also wrote about these vaccine court cases resurfacing on social media, referring to Facebook as, “…a graveyard in a zombie movie, where old news items rise from the dead to have a second life.” He referenced the Italian case, where the court there actually did rule in favor of a family who claimed their child became autistic from the MMR. Dr. Novella’s post does a great job explaining how court cases are not the proving grounds for science, and the rulings from any court should not be used as science. The Italian court may have thought the MMR vaccine causes autism, but they also thought seismologists should be able to predict earthquakes precisely. They show a gross misunderstanding of even basic science.

The US vaccine court plays an important role. It gives people a safety net in the rare instance a vaccine does indeed cause an injury. It gives some assurance to the manufacturers as well in reducing their litigation costs over well understood and well-studied vaccines. This keeps the supply of vaccines more secure. While those against vaccines don’t find reassurance in this, I advise them to look at the evidence and really talk to medical experts. Maybe a few would actually change their mind.

No good scientist is going to say that vaccines are 100% safe. They are not without risk. But vaccines provide an excellent risk/reward ratio to which everyone should take advantage. I could not eat because of a small risk of choking – but I prefer to stay nourished. I could disable my airbags in my car because they could kill me in an accident, but I prefer the greater chance it will save my life. I would rather have to face a few dozen families every year who are affected by vaccine injuries, than watch thousands die due to preventable diseases.

To those who want to continue to spread the falsehood that vaccines are harmful: please stop. Being anti-vaccine is truly harmful to the health of all of us – every person on this planet. Please use your advocacy in better ways. *Bill Lundbergh voice* That would be great.

About Eric Hall

My day job is teaching physics at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. I write about physics, other sciences, politics, education, and whatever else interests or concerns me. I am always working to be rational and reasonable, and I am always willing to improve my knowledge and change my mind when presented with new evidence.
This entry was posted in Alternative Medicine, Health, TV & Media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to New Published Study Verifies Andrew Wakefield’s Research on Autism – Except It Doesn’t

  1. big stu says:

    I have no problems with vaccines. I have a problem being pressured or forced to accept them.

    • Eric Hall says:

      Hi Stu –

      From a freedom/libertarian perspective I agree with you. There is a catch, however.

      To drive, we have a society have decided to make that a privilege and not a right. If you own property, you can drive on that property without a license or insurance. But, the instance you leave that property, there are minimum training requirements (a driver’s license) and minimum insurance requirements in order to keep people a little more safe.

      Smoking is another example. People should be allowed to smoke all they want at home. But we don’t allow people to smoke in public places because of the known health hazards to others when exposed to second-hand smoke. There is a limit to freedom there when it infringes on another’s freedom.

      If one doesn’t want to get vaccinated, that should be their choice. But then there should be protections to prevent the spread of disease to others. Some pediatricians have started refusing to see kids who are not vaccinated in order to protect their immuno-compromised patients. I also think use of some government services (such as schools) should be limited if not vaccinated (and the person is otherwise able to be).

      There is plenty of grey area here. But the libertarian/freedom idea is of course that you can have as much freedom as you want up to the point it causes a force or fraud to be committed against another. If you spread disease – is that not a force/harm against another when it could have been otherwise prevented?

      • Much as I would love to see the unvaccinated excluded from public schools – after all, logic, science and my experience say it would protect the excluded far better than the vaccinated herd, and it would improve the education of the excluded – it sets a dangerous precedent. After all, we are forced to pass through and over “public” facilities even to buy food to sustain life, and this poster’s argument, carried to its logical conclusion, would impose house arrest or worse on anybody who dared exercise his freedom to choose what enters his body.

        • Paineinyourarse says:

          Yes, of course, Public health issues related to disease vectors, population densities, shared sewers systems, epidemic/pandemic control, etc. are same as infringing on one’s right to buy a frozen pizza. Now, why didn’t I think of that?

      • =^..^= says:

        A recent small study introduced a problem with this thinking. In this small study, those animals who received pertussis vaccination did not develop pertussis, but they did pass the pertussis on to the non-vaccinated group. See:

        • Eric Hall says:

          Yes – true – but this is something that has been studied and known about regarding other bacteria as well – See for example Steven’s post on meningitis –

          As Steven points out – bacteria can live much longer outside of their normal environment. Thus they can be harbored on our body – even if we are vaccinated. So the vaccinated people don’t get sick, but they can still spread the illness to others because the bacteria don’t die quickly outside of the body like viruses typically do. This makes it more important to get as many people vaccinated as possible – for if a high number of people are vaccinated, it is less likely they will come in contact with someone who is not vaccinated – at least until the bacteria finally die. This will then in turn prevent the spread of the disease.

          I would say the premise of herd immunity still holds – just the calculation of herd immunity is different for viruses and bacteria.

  2. sgerbic says:

    Eric – THANK YOU This blog is going to go a lot further now. I took the 3 Fringe Websites you gave in the first paragraph and they will each be scheduled for Skeptic Action (follow on FB/Twitter/Google+) and followers each day will be asked to rate those websites using WoT (Web of Trust) and also Rbutr.

    Then I left comments on each website using WoT and rated them low. Then I used your blog to Rbutr each of the websites.

    Then the Rbutr people have come up with a new twist that I found easy to use. On the last website when you Rbutr it, it shows 4 tweeters that have tweeted the URL to that fringe site. I was able to notify these people (maybe they are believers) that the fringe website now has a counter site… your blog.

    So with this one blog you wrote, it took me maybe 10 minutes to rate each fringe page in a couple different ways, and to tweet directly to people who have shared the page in the past. And because of the Skeptic Action project, on Aug 17, 18 & 19 each of these URL’s will be a focus for my followers.

    Sorry this is so confusing, but if readers aren’t getting this… just join Skeptic Action and find out how to get beyond the skeptical choir. If we all work a little at this, we can make a major difference.

    A action a day keeps pseudoscience at bay.

    Susan Gerbic

  3. lilady says:

    Every few months or so, those old rumors about damages being awarded for “vaccine-induced autism”, circulate around the internet.

    I posted on Orac’s blog in January when David Kirby in his latest assault on childhood vaccines, blogged about those cases. I also waded in at the Ho-Po to confront Kirby and the crank posters from the anti-vaccine, anti-science sites who sought to twist the truth about “autism onset being caused by MMR vaccines”.

    The Remini Italy magistrate awarded damages to an autistic child which was purportedly caused by MMR vaccine, based on the fraudulent contrived study conducted by Andrew Wakefield, which was published, then retracted by The Lancet medical journal. Wakefield’s research has been discredited and his licensed to practice medicine was revoked in the U.K., by the General Medical Council. The GMC found that he colluded with the lawyer who was getting set to sue the U.K. MMR vaccine manufacturer, he had undeclared conflicts of interest, he was paid $ 750,000 USD to be a professional witness in that lawsuit, he committed grievous medical harm to the children in his “study” by the ordering of painful, invasive, dangerous and not-medically-indicated medical testing for his study “subjects”. That magistrate’s decision has been roundly criticized by scientists and researchers around-the-world and legal experts. The decision is under appeal…and will, IMO, be overturned.

    A simple PubMed search under “MMR Vaccines and Autism” finds 356 studies published in first-tier, peer-reviewed science and medical journals that disprove any link between MMR vaccines and the onset of autism…or any other disorder:

    • Forgive me for stating the obvious, but disagreeing with the establishment is not a crime. Neither is receiving a fee for expert testimony in court. Sorry if you don’t like that.

  4. Moral Dolphin says:

    PETA Offers $1 Million Reward to First Person to Make ‘Test Tube’ Meat. UPDATE: Since 2008, when PETA first announced a $1 million prize for the first …

    Theres this thing about searches

  5. Moral Dolphin says:

    oops.. scrolled back..

  6. Freke1 says:

    Vaccines are great but why do they put aluminium in them? It’s a neuro toxin dammit. It’s also in deodorants, medicine, food additives and is used for water purification. Like we want cancer or Alzheimers.

      • Freke1 says:

        Right, safe. But after watching “The age of aluminium” (German docu) literally yesterday on national (non-corporate actually) TV I tend to think we get too much aluminium causing cancer, allergies and possibly dementia (are these on the rice?). So why put it in vaccines for children at all? Right, safe!
        I made this cutout from that docu:
        to remind myself of the danger, cause I forget. And I want the big picture.

        • Eric Hall says:

          Like anything, it is about dose and form. Sodium and chlorine are highly toxic by themselves. Together they are harmless unless a significantly large dose is consumed. Aluminum is the same way. The amount of aluminum in all the vaccines is about equivalent to a month or so use of traditional antiperspirant. It is worth it because it lowers the number of shots required to build immunity. We can’t even get people to take a full course of antibiotics. Imagine trying to get people to follow up on additional boosters.

  7. Rick Miller says:

    If YOUR child is vaccinated then how does my UN-vaccinated child pose a risk to him?
    My brother’s oncologist told him it was the aluminum in his antiperspirant that caused his non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The lumps started under his arms. Some/all (?) vaccines mutate cells
    and then cause them to reproduce the mutated variety and it is irreversible You are then a mutant.
    I’m not a nut I’m just saying the jury is still out on a lot of these. Was it the polio vaccine where they say it wasn’t the vaccine that cured it but that it was already on the decline when it was introduced. Don’t get me started on fluoridated water which is a toxic byproduct of aluminum production. Parts of Europe are no longer fluoridating their water.

    • Eric Hall says:

      I will address a few of these –

      First, as my children develop, they get vaccines. But immunity might not fully develop from a single dose (this is via research that has been repeated and validated). My children go to a public school that is K-12. Thus your unvaccinated child might go to the same school as my child who does not yet have full immunity to the diseases your child could carry because he/she isn’t vaccinated. This is the basics of herd immunity. Also, perhaps there are children at the school that have an immune deficiency and can’t get vaccinated or the vaccine isn’t effective. Your child who could otherwise be prevented from getting a preventable disease could now spread it to this vulnerable child. Again – this is the importance of herd immunity. When people don’t get vaccinated, the disease can spread faster and easier.

      Your oncologist anecdote is just that – an anecdote and not evidence. My guess would be the oncologist said not to use antiperspirant due to the lymphoma, not that it caused it. Spicy food can irritate an ulcer, but it is not the cause of an ulcer.

      Vaccines do not mutate cells. That is an extraordinary claim, it requires extraordinary evidence.

      The polio vaccine claim of hygiene is the same claim the anti-vax people tried to peddle on a couple years ago about the measles. See the intellectual dishonesty here:

      Read up on fluoridation –

    • Kristi says:

      Thank you Rick Miller. I have studied both sides for past year and was trained in Western medicine 15 years ago so already knew what I was taught as a nurse practitioner. And yes, the frustrating part is the cover up of any possibility that vaccines can possibly cause the amount of harm claimed by parents. That unwillingness to admit any fault is causing even more distrust by myself and those parents. Add to that the fact that there is a swinging door between CDC and the vaccine industry (previous CDC president now president of Merck to name one example), the motivation behind the bias becomes more evident and suspicious. By the way, Merck is in trouble with a lawsuit for falsifying MMR efficacy rates. And you still wonder why there is distrust? You don’t have to be “anti-vaccine” to be “anti-corruption” within the industry that is supposed to protect our children, not their profits!!!!!

      • Eric Hall says:

        As I have also commented – we do not settle science in courts. We have plenty of examples of courts getting the science wrong all the time. And being sued does not mean one is guilty.

        So tell me, which parts of Western medicine do you pick and choose to like? Because I only know of something called medicine. Anything that isn’t medicine is nonsense.

        We have countless independent studies showing the safety and efficacy of vaccines. Even if you link the CDC to industry, you also have to try to link every European, Australian, Japanese, etc government to the companies. The conspiracy would be so large it is nearly impossible.

        Show me the science.

  8. C. C. says:

    Why does America have one of the highest rates of SIDS of any industrialized nation? Why does America have the most aggressive vaccine schedule of any country? Why do we allow people to bounce between high paying pharma positions and power positions at the CDC and FDA when this is clearly a conflict of interest and would not be allowed for an auditor of a publically held company? Why do adults not think it is important for them to get vaccinated regularly due to wavering vaccine protection but expect babies with immature undeveloped immune systems to get multiple vaccines at once? Why has the rate of Autism increased at the same rate as the increase in vaccines added to the vaccine schedule? Why does France no longer advise Hep B vaccine for school? Why does Japan not give the first DPaT till two years old? Why not manufacture measles, mumps and rubella vaccines separately as a safety precaution? I know it will cut into the gross profit margin slightly, but aren’t our children worth it? Why not wait till people are becoming sexually active to recommend Hep B rather than give it to a newborn who has a higher chance of adverse reaction than even catching it? I think we need to get some some answers from unbiased professionals urgently!

    • Eric Hall says:

      CC- you are making many classic errors of correlation. Just because things correlate does not mean one is the cause of the other. A perfect example of this is the increase of organic food sales also correlates with the rise in autism diagnoses –

      The cause of SIDS is much more complex than what you indicate here. Many factors go into that, including how infant deaths are classified in various countries. In the US, many babies who are saved by medical intervention are not in other countries. Because of the low birth weights and other problems of health, they may still die as an infant and the death may be attributed to SIDS if an obvious cause cannot be found. I also couldn’t find anything that said our rate was significantly higher at least on a per birth basis.

      Hep B is not transmitted just by sexual contact. It can be passed through any body fluid, including saliva (such as sharing utensils and toothbrushes). It can also be passed through biting, sharing toys, etc. If contracted as a child, it is much more dangerous than if contracted as an adult. So why do we give it – because the evidence says we should.

      I see you also fell for Wakefield’s trap of manufacturing the MMR as separate vaccines. Funny how he advocated for that when he was invloved in developing those vaccines. I use that only because you throw out money interests in vaccines (which there is not much money in making vaccines actually – unless you develop a new one). The target in MMR that “causes” autism keeps moving – it is they are together, it is mercury, it is aluminum – none of which have a good plausibility – especially now that the genetic links and brain development signs are now known to happen even before birth.

      I suggest looking at my humor piece to see how using unscientific conjecture and logical fallacies doesn’t lead one to correct conclusions –

    • houseofnom says:

      Australia has roughly the same vaccine schedule, but more combined doses. The only difference is Australia doesn’t vaccinate routinely for Hep A unless you’re aboriginal. Do some research buddy.

      SIDS isn’t caused by vaccines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *