Kirby Weighs in on "The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won't Go Away"

My response to his post at Huffington and, I think, sufficient for hitting the glaring problems with his incredibly long-winded logical fallacies:

There's not only no good scientific evidence for vaccines causing autism, there's absolutely no reason to think that 1% of cases of autism is caused by vaccines. In addition, there's no sound scientific evidence to believe that autism is a neuroinjur­y.

It's also completely irrelevant what Americans think regarding autism and vaccines; appeals to popularity and appeals to belief have nothing to do with the claim "some autism is caused by vaccines."

It's not who makes the claim; it's not who believes the claim. It's the evidence for the claim that matters. And anecdote isn't evidence.

It's also a poor argument to make that parents must know an absolute cause before they'll let the vaccine idea go. Those who believe that vaccines caused their child's autism are unlikely to reconsider that belief.

That's the problem with belief systems; they tend to be immune to contradict­ory informatio­n and evidence that refutes the belief system.


Here's what I'm noticing on these ideas not founded on empirical evidence. The folks promoting the ideas write longer and longer pieces full of empty appeals: appeals to authority, to belief, to popularity. They confuse anecdote with evidence. And they are immune to contradictory evidence. Every red flag you can think of tends to be hit: appeals to ancient wisdom, ideological beliefs, you name it, and it pops up across woo-ville.

This is true in the autism-vaccine debate. It's true of homeopathy. The proponents get longer-winded and the science-based bloggers boil it down to the basics: the consensus of the scientific studies (not of the people, but of the evidence) is that there is no evidence this works or is real (depending on what it is); the pseudoscientific proponents really on fallacious appeals and hot air.

The more I teach what homeopathy is the harder a time I have of understanding why anyone would believe it. Not one student, having watched the short Ben Goldacre clip explaining it or even the Mitchell and Webb skit, ever walk out of class believing homeopathy is anything other than hokum. They get the Avogadro's number. They get it. Of course, they didn't have an emotional investment in it, either, when I introduced them to it. And that may explain best of all why the debate won't go away in some sectors: the people who already believe it.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost


Ari said...

Is a "neuroinjury" meaning injury to the brain, or the brain's method of connections? That is how autism was first descibed to me, as it being a problem with how the brain cells connected to each other (or failed to connect). I was told that it was a type of brain injury and not because of psychological or emotional "issues", and nothing that could be blamed on me, my parents, or any traumatic events. Is that is what you meant by neuroinjury? If so, is that not what you think could be a cause autism?

I accepted it as a valid reason because it was a psychologist who told me that, but I'm finding out (in unrelated ways) that even professionals aren't always right. Even when they say they have no doubts about what they tell me... I suppose it doesn't really matter what makes me autistic, beyond knowing that it isn't anything that is my "fault", but it's frustrating to not know for sure.

KWombles said...

Neuroinjury would mean an injury to the brain.

Different wiring isn't an injury, though. It's just different. Injury means it was fine at some point, then damaged. Despite some parents' assertions that this is true, that their kids were perfect and then not, there is no evidence that autism was suddenly visited on their children. All that can really be said is that in some cases, the regression appears to have been sudden; it doesn't mean that there weren't indicators of difference prior to the regression (research bears out that there are often subtle differences that the experienced diagnostician can recognize).

Pubmed pulls back exactly 0 hits for the search query of "autism neuroinjury" as did an EBSCO search using Academic Search Complete, Medline, all available psychological-related databases and Health Source: Nursing/Academic Edition.

Autism is recognized as a complex neurological disorder (it isn't a psychological disorder or a mental illness); there are undoubtedly multiple causes and some form of autism have stigmata (physical signs); these types of autism will have genetic disorders. Other autism cases will manifest with absolutely no physical signs and no known cause will be identified.

The science to date (mainstream, replicated and accepted science) indicates that autism is caused by a rich interplay of genetics and environment.

Do some individuals sustain an injury to the brain, like anoxia, and later get diagnosed with autism? Yes. Did the anoxia cause the autism? I don't know.

Doctors are as guilty of making inaccurate causal associations as the rest of us. They're also as guilty of using language imprecisely.

Sometimes, all we have are maybes, and personally, rather than asking why regarding my children's autism or health issues or my own health issues, if there is no clear cause and even if there is, I prefer to ask what now. :)

Life in the House That Asperger Built said...

The thing that got me is the ONE study he referenced that said there is no evidence of autism before 6 months of age. I went and read the study...and it's like what people do with the bible! They don't say it's not there. They say it's not evident. There's an OCEAN of difference there! Oh..there's much more that bothers me, but I'm gonna leave it and just say to you...


Anonymous said...

And to build on Laura, if Kirby's so impressed with the anecdotal evidence of parents' observations when it comes to a vaccination having been the trigger incident, then he'd reasonably have to give equal weight to the parents who say that they knew there was something different about their autistic kids from day 1 of their lives.

sharon said...

I started googling Autism in Infants when my son was around 6 months. His obvious avoidance of eye contact at 2 months onwards was my first major red flag. Whatever happened, it was in utero. Signs were evident at a very young age, despite his high functioning status.

Clay said...

Just another anecdote here, there used to be a woman who posted on ANI years ago who said that from day one, her daughter went rigid when being held, and also refused to nurse, although she accepted a bottle just fine. Turned out she was autistic.

KWombles said...

Clay, thanks for visiting.

Sharon, same with my three, but I didn't realize the importance of it with my first and because the girls were relatively easier, it took awhile to accept with them.

Chavisory, he's not really interested in any anecdotes that don't agree with what he believes.

Laura, yup. Plenty still there to pull apart. More than a bit like whackamole.