so, on wednesday, a think tank in new jersey sent out a press release that they found a probable link to what may be responsible for the sudden, widespread increase of autism. coming across this last night, i posted (along with a quote and a link to the press release) an emotional rant about how our medical establishment sucks. since then, there has been a lot of heated debate about the release — on the blogosphere, on twitter, and elsewhere. so today, i’m going to take a bit more of an objective standpoint…
okay, who am i kidding…screw objective…i’ll at least be less inflammatory.
one of the main criticisms of the release was on the lack of any real, hard scientific data. there was a lot of stuff implied, and some science suggested but no real evidence. the arguments that i’ve read across the net called the findings pseudoscience having no real foundation in actual science. well, here’s the thing: that post…it wasn’t an article. it wasn’t a scientific paper detailing all the findings and the specific data. it was merely a press release issued by a think tank who stumbled across the evidence. the source, pr newswire, has been used to issue press releases since 1954 and has connections with all the major news sources. this isn’t even news yet, it’s just an announcement of their findings. my guess is in the next days and weeks you will start to see real articles in major publications on the topic as the washington post, ny times, and everyone else calls up the researchers involved, the members of the think tank, and anyone else involved in extrapolating their findings, and if, after checking their sources, the whole thing is found to be — oops — a total fluke and misrepresentation of the data they were looking at, then you can call me a dangerously paranoid schizophrenic, and i’ll go back to watching the sky for space aliens.
but the more interesting thing to me is, why is this such a huge issue? the debate has raged for years. names are flung on both sides. battle lines are drawn. experts are brought in and both sides have made convincing arguments. there’s the same passion and fire and vitriol as there is in the abortion debate, or public health care, or whether michael jackson was really a pedophile or just really weird. i mean, seriously, what’s the deal?
earlier this year, new studies revealed that autism rates in this country were now 1 in 91, and 1 in 58 boys. it’s hard to deny there’s a serious problem here. and we’re no closer to finding the cause. shouldn’t we unite in exploring all possibilities?
and then there’s the parents who have a happy, healthy toddler, and take their kid in for their regular vaccination, and come home with a kid dazed, and out of it, not behaving like his (or her) normal self, and it never goes away. when their child is later diagnosed with autism, they make the obvious conclusion — it must have been related to the vaccination. and yet, they are ridiculed, shunned, alienated. doctors misdiagnose patients all. the. time. and yet, when it comes to kids, we trust a stranger who doesn’t live with our kids, knows nothing about them except what they’ve read in textbooks and medical journals, to make an assumption that implies they know more than parents about what’s going on with their kids. i know first hand that doctors can be wrong — especially when it comes to diagnosing something insubstantial that is (or appears) more behavioral than chemical.
and then there’s the amish thing. and this is what’s going to put me over the top into the loony category. because a few years ago a guy went to an amish community to see what the difference was (if any) in terms of autism rates vs. the rest of our culture the theory was that since the amish don’t vaccinate (flawed assumption: increasingly they do, although not everyone), they’d make an ideal test group for the “autism is caused by vaccines” argument. what he found was that the actual ratio of kids in an amish community who had autism was significantly lower than the rest of..well…everything. low enough that if everyone else had the same ratio, we wouldn’t be having this debate. this gets slammed over and over and over again for being not science, because there’s no hard scientific evidence. but seeing as this paper was written 4 years ago, and it starts off with “where are all the autistic amish?” the whole point is that it’s something we need to be looking at, and no one is. and now, guess what? people are talking about it. mission: accomplished. regardless of whether some amish get vaccinated or no amish get vaccinated, the fact remains that the number of amish with autism is still lower by a huge margin. whatever they’re doing, they’re doing something right. let’s all move to salem.
why such emotion against people suggesting that vaccinations could be, if not a direct cause for autism, at least something that should be investigated? it makes me think about the tobacco industry.
40 or so years ago, everyone smoked. doctors smoked. tobacco companies grew rich and fat and cocky. advertising campaigns were launched to attract an ever-younger audience, and while it was frowned upon to actually sell cigarettes to minors, i doubt it caused Joe Camel too many sleepless nights to think of 8 year olds puffing his cigs in the bathroom at recess. fast forward to now: smoking rates are going down. the medical establishment and the surgeon general have come out with a strong statement that cigarettes have been known to cause cancer. but 40 years ago, there was so much money and industry involved in the tobacco business — a business that was one of the things this country had been in pretty much since we landed here with funny hats and accents — that to consider potential harmful side effects would get you silenced, shunned, alienated, and ridiculed.
take a look at this graph:
if it took us 40 years to figure out that smoking was bad for us, and 1 in 91 kids today have autism, where do you imagine this graph will be 40 years from now?
i have a suspicion that the reason why we’re so emotional about this topic — and especially about the idea that vaccines may have a link to autism — is because deep down we know we screwed up, whether it’s the vaccination thing or some other problem we’ve created. to accept the possibility that vaccines lead to autism is to accept that this widespread problem was preventable, and we made a gross error in judgement in trusting drug companies and doctors who told us everything was okay. and that’s a hard thing to accept. believe me, i know, because we had these same doubts when we made the decision to stop vaccinating our first kid and not vaccinate our youngest.
i have one last thing to share and this time, i won’t point fingers or guilt anyone. this one is real science. so, you know how monkeys are our distant cousins? ever wonder what would happen if you tried giving them the same vaccination regimen we’re giving our kids these days? this is a make or break argument, right? i mean, if you can prove it on monkeys, that should pretty much blow the lid off the whole thing, you could probably assume that if someone did that study, we’d all know about it. well, someone did. and the results indicated that there was, in fact, a direct correlation between vaccinated macaques and behavioral, physiolo- and neurological issues that are commonly associated with autism spectrum disorder.
Compared with unexposed animals, significant neurodevelopmental deficits were evident for exposed animals in survival reflexes, tests of color discrimination and reversal, and learning sets. Differences in behaviors were observed between exposed and unexposed animals and within the exposed group before and after MMR vaccination. Compared with unexposed animals, exposed animals showed attenuation of amygdala growth and differences in the amygdala binding of [11C]diprenorphine. Interaction models identified significant associations between specific aberrant social and non-social behaviors, isotope binding, and vaccine exposure.
all these things seem to add up to a fairly convincing argument to — if not outright believe vaccinations are the cause for autism — at least have doubts.
i’m not against vaccinations. but what we are giving our kids today is different from what we got when we were kids. the pharmaceutical industry is large, and bloated, and fat, and is a huge business. in order to stay profitable, they need to be making new drugs all the time, and they want to stay profitable. in many ways, pharmaceutical companies today resemble tobacco companies of yore. and we know this. yet, still we trust that they know well enough to give our kids drugs that are not only safe from harmful side-effects but also rigorously and thoroughly tested before being released into the populace, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. call me crazy, but that doesn’t exactly establish a whole lot of trust with me.