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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Vaccines and Autism, Part 4




By Professor Doom

     Now, there have been plenty of studies showing a link between vaccines and autism, not that a link means causation. For any statistical study, you can argue something about the methodology invalidates the study. One of the best arguments nullifying these studies isn’t the sample size, it’s the environment.

      Autism rates are rising, vaccination rates are rising…given these two facts, it’d be pretty amazing, astounding even, if no study could be produced showing a statistical link between the two. Unfortunately, quite a few other things are rising. More processed food, for example, or just about anything else…I bet anyone could show that vaccination rates and number of McDonald’s franchises are rising together as well.

      This is a big problem. Autism rates have been rising even in indigenous populations, populations that didn’t even have a word for autism before. Now, these rates rise in proportion to these populations getting vaccinations…and that still doesn’t prove a thing.

      As these people come out of the jungle or the outback to get their vaccinations, they’re also getting exposed to everything else the modern world has to offer. They come out of the jungle, get their shot, and grab a Big Mac on the way home…I exaggerate, but the modern infrastructure that exposes indigenous people to vaccines exposes them to many other things.

     Instead of looking at rising rates of autism and vaccination, can we find people in the modern world who’ve kept the same rates for the last few decades?

      Yes. The Amish do not get autism…or at least get it at such a low rate (i.e., the historical rate) that it hasn’t been found. The Amish, of course, do not get vaccinations.

      It’s really worth pointing out here: the Amish have not succumbed to plagues of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, or all the other things that most every American child is vaccinated against repeatedly, nor have they passed on these plagues to the tourists and such who visit them and buy their wares. Even more stunning, the population of Amish is exploding…and they’re avoiding vaccines. If vaccines are so necessary that it is mandatory for citizens to get them, why are the Amish thriving without them? “Herd Immunity” doesn’t apply here, since the Amish, quite obviously, live as a group, and totally travel through modern society with some regularity. It really, really, seems like there’s a question or two worth asking there.

      Now we have a real problem. It’s one thing to disregard the studies that say vaccinations and autism are related…but now we have a population that has no autism, and no vaccinations. To add insult to injury, the population has no plagues, isn’t giving anyone plagues, and the population is growing quickly.

     I’ve heard some pro-vaccination folks say that perhaps the Amish simply murder their autistic children, but I find this argument shrill. You don’t have to assume nearly so much to discount this apparent relationship between “no vaccines” and “no autism.”

     The Amish live a very special lifestyle. They don’t go to McDonald’s, after all, or do much that a “typical” modern person does…we’re basically looking at an indigenous population here, very unlike “everyone else” in so many ways that a case could be made that it’s still just a coincidence about the apparent link between vaccinations and autism. There’s also a genetic issue here: there aren’t many converts to the Amish, and most Amish can trace their roots back to Amish great grandparents. The people with genetic resistance to autism might just coincidentally be genetically inclined to being Amish—I’m not saying I agree, I’m just showing how far some people are willing to go to discredit a study.
 
     Can we find people who’ve kept the same rates of autism and vaccination for the last few decades, who nevertheless live like us?
 
     That might be a problem, but perhaps we can get close enough.

 

     The Jehovah’s Witnesses were initially against vaccination, but in 1952, they had something of a reversal, presented in the above quote. It’s an incredibly ethical decision: let the individual decide whether a vaccination is a sin, and behave accordingly.
 
     Jehovah’s Witnesses aren’t nearly as restricted in behavior as the Amish, all we’d have to do is find a subgroup of Jehovah’s Witness that still doesn’t vaccinate and check their autism rates, and we’re set. Jehovah’s Witnesses even get converts regularly enough that you don’t even have to worry much about a possible genetic issue here.
 
     We’d like to have a big sample, too, right? Well, here we go:
 
But thousands of children cared for by Homefirst Health Services in metropolitan Chicago have at least two things in common with thousands of Amish children in rural Lancaster: They have never been vaccinated. And they don't have autism.
"We have a fairly large practice. We have about 30,000 or 35,000 children that we've taken care of over the years, and I don't think we have a single case of autism in children delivered by us who never received vaccines,"
 

     This practice (the link is from nearly 10 years ago) tends to have patients who follow religious beliefs that disallow vaccinations. These patients also tend to homeschool, breastfeed, and eat at least relatively healthy diets, but are nevertheless a far cry away from Amish in lifestyle and genetics—they still watch TV, use cell phones, and eat the occasional Big Mac, after all. The children seem to be resistant to other common ailments as well:
 
“…The asthma rate among Homefirst patients is so low it was noticed by the Blue Cross group with which Homefirst is affiliated,…”
 

     That’s not some random blogging chucklehead saying something’s special here, that’s Blue Cross. I’m no fan of big insurance companies in general…but I know they’re very, very, careful with their record keeping (because good record keeping means good profits for an insurance company). Asthma, much like autism, has also been claimed to be related to vaccination (just a claim, of course).
 
      It’s also worth noting that these 30,000 unvaccinated children also are not dying off left and right due to measles, mumps, rubella, etc., nor has the population of Chicago died off contracting diseases from these children, over the last ten years. Yes, a few, small, outbreaks in various places (not just Chicago)…but it’s hard to compare a child being sick for a week to getting lifelong brain damage. After ten years of waiting, I would have thought people would wonder about those dire predictions.
 
      I emphasize that last “ten years” because, over a decade ago, people were very, very, certain that the world was going to boil over soon...I was called many unpleasant names back then when I questioned the research, too. “Big government science” said the world was going to boil over, snowfall would be a thing of the past (not joking, that’s the title), the ice caps would be gone, etc, supported by big government data, and every study that said otherwise was attacked, discredited, and could not get published in a “good enough” journal. But, with 10 years of no boiling over, people are starting to ask questions about just how seriously we need to take “big science” sometimes.
 
     I no longer question the claim that there will be no polar ice caps by 2014, though there was a time when “only an idiot” would question the government science behind that prediction…it’s time to question something else.
 
     How many decades of big government telling us marijuana was very, very, bad, have been negated in the last few years by honest scientists? One should always ask questions about anything big government related.
 
Charlatan: “It’s a ghost whistle.”
Sucker: “What’s it do?”
Charlatan: “It scares away ghosts. Just blow it once a year or so and no ghosts will attack you.”
Sucker: “That’s stupid, who’s ever heard of a ghost attacking?”
Charlatan: “Well, I’ve been blowing it every year. So, it works! But I’m moving away soon, so need to sell it to someone who understands.”
Sucker: “Ah, I understand. Guess I’d better buy it.”
 

     I really think it’s time to ask some questions here about the absolute necessity of at least some of these vaccines. How many of these dozens of new vaccines we’re pumping into our children are really just ghost whistles? I only had half a dozen vaccinations growing up, and there weren’t any plagues…and now children need 70 vaccinations? Did I miss the study saying that the current generation is much, much, healthier than generations past? I sure couldn’t find anything of the sort.
 
      Back to that (alleged) no vaccine practice, we have a very serious claim that there’s a relationship, the data is right there, now all the government (or someone else with deep pockets) has to do is a study of these 30,000 kids to see if there’s a result here worth reporting.
 
      Does the government have the money for such a study? I know, there are lots of things worth studying. It’s been a decade, surely someone with deep pockets could take a look and settle things at least a little?

Autism link to vaccines dismissed by studies of more than a million children

 

    
    
That’s a government study from 2014. I guess nobody “official” has the time to look into that vaccine-free practice, so we have to look unofficially. Shucks. It would be nice to see that group studied carefully—it’s much harder to “produce” 600 kids with autism than it is to simply toss a few data points that would show a link.
 
Now that we have a whistleblower saying the data in big government studies is manipulated, I can’t help but be a little suspicious, even if CNN is very trusting that there’s nothing to see there.
 
 
--wait, what? You mean the doctors don’t even think vaccines are always perfectly safe? Don’t they read CNN? Just kidding, although I’ve personally met a few medical personnel that are a little suspicious of vaccines as well.



     I’m not a doctor, so I can’t give much advice. My knowledge of statistics tells me that something is going on, but I sure can’t tell you what. If you’re thinking of vaccinations, I encourage you to become well informed on the subject, and, ultimately, to follow your heart…vaccines are (probably) a good bet for most people, but you should know and understand the risks. If you do decide to vaccinate your children against everything, strongly consider spreading out the vaccine schedule as much as possible.  Try to cut back on the Happy Meals for the kids, while you’re at it. Also, read more than just CNN for your information, because mainstream media just keeps insisting there’s no link at all, even with multiple whistleblowers on the  inside saying big government research is bogus.


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Vaccines and Autism, Part 3




By Professor Doom

     So I’m continuing to dissect a CNN article that, despite the title, , seems to be mostly about defending vaccines. Nothing wrong with that, but the article doesn’t seem to realize that nearly every tactic that discredits vaccine studies that show a link between vaccines and autism can be just as easily applied to studies that don’t show such a link.

“Other researchers have not been able to replicate Wakefield's findings…”
--that’s from the CNN article. For what it’s worth, here are a couple dozen more research studies that confirm Wakefield’s allegations…published studies, in mainstream medical journals, available to any who look. It’s just so weird that CNN can make so many mistakes in this article. I acknowledge that none of these studies “prove” anything…but it’s weird that CNN denies they exist.

     Strange results make the news, boring results don’t…except for autism studies, for some reason. For autism, studies that have no results get major headline news…studies that get results get buried and it’s pretended that they don’t exist, except for that one Wakefield study that would hardly be meaningful in a best case scenario. I mean, a big study that shows “the sun sets in the West” doesn’t make the news, why would a study that confirms the government position that we’re already bombarded with every day be front page newsworthy?

     Hmm. Didn’t we go through this with the global warming scare? Any study that promoted warming was promoted, anything disputing it was squelched.

     In the normal world, if you’re running a study, you’re pretty motivated to do what it takes to get strange results. There are many technical ways of getting whatever result you want, but, if you don’t want to open yourself up to technical arguments (good luck with that!) you can just keep repeating the study until you get what you want…and that’s a non-technical way anybody can use. Of course, repeating a study a few hundred times is expensive, only the folks with deep pockets can afford to do that. More realistically, you can just get a huge data set and snip out what you don’t want…if you have the money for that.

     Another deep pocket issue concerns sample size. A common (and often, somewhat valid) criticism of many studies that show links between vaccines and autism is that the sample size is too small, a few dozen, perhaps (the Wakefield study that provoked such a massive years-long witch hunt was with a sample size less than 20, for example. I can’t emphasize strongly enough how marginal—for autism/vaccines--a study with such a small sample size is.). Again, only big moneyed interests can really afford studies involving many thousands of subjects.

      Hmm, who has the deeper pockets? Government and pharmaceutical industries sure do have deep pockets. It’s also much easier to bury/manipulate results when you have a huge study. It’s weird how mainstream media never even considers pointing their counter-arguments at the pro-vaccine studies.

     While the CNN article has no trouble criticizing a study that shows a relationship between vaccines and autism, it goes one step further and says autism may well start before the vaccination. It’s an interesting theory, and CNN says there are “several studies” suggesting this. Neat, the author didn’t have 5 minutes to find the studies I did, but did have time to look at those studies.

     The article helpfully provides a link to the best study the author could find for this new theory that autism starts before vaccination. The sample size for that study? 13. Yes, thirteen.

     If you’re studying how many slices of pepperoni to put on a pizza, that’s a good enough sample size I suppose, but autism is a devastating lifelong problem. Thirteen is a ridiculously small sample to claim a serious result over a matter affecting potentially millions of children for their entire lives, and yet it’s the best the author could come up with? Wow. The author took the time to find that study, but not the time to see if there were any serious studies linking autism and vaccines. 

     Hmm.

      And, again, mainstream media’s credibility takes another hit. A study with a sample size of 13 is “preliminary,” not “used as data in a CNN article,” unless it’s an article about preliminary studies.

     I’m no doctor, I’m no autism expert…and yet, with minimal effort, I’m making clear-cut correction after correction after correction to a CCN article. What’s up with that?

     While the title of the article, Journal Questions Validity of Autism and Vaccines Study, suggests there’s a question of validity, it really seems like the article spends much of its time defending vaccines. 

     Hmm. Again.

      Keep in mind, those previous studies simply suggest a link. Maybe it’s mercury in the vaccines? Could be. Maybe one vaccine is bad, but not others? Could be, again, impossible to tell. Maybe it’s exposure to dozens of different viruses in a short period of time? Could be, no way to tell. I rather favor the “too many vaccines” hypothesis, since autism has gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50 as we’ve increased vaccinations…it’s fair to ask the question, and most studies “verifying” vaccine safety only look at one vaccine at a time, and not the combined effects of 70 different vaccines, which is more relevant to what our children actually experience. 

     Maybe there’s a genetic component to all this, so that certain genes, plus vaccines in quantity, is the problem? Again, totally could be (again, I find it very likely genetics is a factor here). The statistical studies really can’t address all these possibilities…it’s just odd that mainstream media seems to not even mention they exist. Other than to say they don’t exist, of course.

       Now, it’s an agreed upon fact that, every once in a while (at the bare minimum), vaccines cause reactions that lead to death or permanent disability, autism aside. Do vaccines do more good than harm? It seems like it (yes, smallpox vaccines probably were a huge boon decades ago, but I’m really focusing on what’s happening, today). Another line in the CNN article is common to many mainstream pieces on this topic, and leads to an important point:

"I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives,…”

      This is (probably) a valid point, but there’s a moral issue here that really needs to be addressed. The moral issue with vaccinations isn’t that sometimes people die or receive lifelong debilitating illnesses from them, people do all sorts of things that get themselves killed or permanently injured, and I generally don’t have the right to tell people not to do things to themselves on their own time.

      The moral issue comes up if you make vaccines mandatory. Every person that supports mandatory vaccinations must agree to the following:

    “I’m quite willing to kill innocent children for the chance that maybe I or my child will have a healthier life.”

     A believer in mandatory vaccinations is willing to accept the slaughter of innocents, because, mathematically, people are definitely going to die from vaccinations, and since those people don’t get a choice about getting vaccinated, then the people that believe in taking away that choice, the pro-mandatory-vaccinators, must then assume the responsibility for those deaths.

     I sure don’t want that responsibility. I respect people willing to do much to help their children, but the number of folks willing to commit random slaughter like this is a bit frightening.

     Next time, I’m going to take a look at people that choose not to get vaccinations (it’s far more than most people think), and see if they’re dying in droves from the illnesses that vaccines (supposedly) protect others from, or if the  non-vaccinated are somehow killing vaccinated people (I’ve had pro-vaccine people say the latter is a legitimate fear).


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Vaccines and Autism, Part 2




By Professor Doom

     Ok, so it’s clear the assumptions of the pro-vaccine crowd are so strong, that it’s reasonable to at least consider the possibility that they’re wrong, that vaccines can actually cause problems, for some people, at least sometimes.

      I’m not picking on CNN here, but the article is pretty much a template for how mainstream media addresses concerns about vaccines:

Journal questions validity of autism and vaccine study

 

     The title is certainly promising, but the article contains phrases that are very common in mainstream media when it (crudely) discusses this topic, and I really feel the need to clarify.

     “…no link between vaccines and autism, including several reviews by the Institute of Medicine. Most recently, a study published in Pediatrics on July 1 concluded that vaccines do not cause autism spectrum disorders.”

 

     Every mainstream article always has language in it stating unequivocally that there’s no link between vaccines and autism. Many mainstream articles claim there are no studies showing a link. 

     To CNN’s credit, after firing that strange broadside, they at least mention one study showing such a link…they spend plenty of time discussing how Wakefield’s study has been discredited. Curiously, while the CNN article says researchers have had trouble replicating Wakefield’s work, I had little difficulty finding research supporting it. Ok, so maybe Wakefield’s study (which only had a few kids in it in any event, making it weird there was such a strong reaction to the results) was bogus; there have been plenty of bogus pro-global warming studies, too, that doesn’t mean global warming isn’t happening (bear with me on that!).

--vaccine-related cases go to a special court. Despite the wild conflicts of interest, people have won cases showing their child’s autism was caused by a vaccine. But mainstream media says there’s no relationship…

     But the fact still remains that mainstream news keeps insisting that no study has found a link between autism and vaccines. Over and over again, mainstream media says that. But wait, here’s a study that says:


      That’s a link. Ok, it’s only one study (ASD is “Autism Spectrum Disorder”), and the mothers make the report, since the children are too damaged…you can always, always, make an argument against any statistical study. But wait, here’s a study that says:

Japanese & British Data Show Vaccines Cause Autism


     That, too, shows a link between vaccines and autism. Ok, that’s only two. But wait, here’s a study that says:


        The above aren’t just blog rants, those are peer-reviewed type studies done by legitimized professionals (I should also note those studies quote much lower autism rates, because those studies are few years old, and reported autism rates are much higher today). It took me all of five minutes to find those studies, and there are quite a few others readily available. I certainly grant none of those studies prove anything (because, fundamentally, statistics cannot prove anything, ever), but why does mainstream media keep insisting there is no link? Can’t any mainstream reporter take five minutes to search the internet? 

     One can easily argue with the methodology of the above studies…but one could just as easily argue with the methodology (and conflicts of interest!) in the studies that show no link.

…Further, there STILL IS NO SCIENTIFIC LINK between vaccines and autism…
--from the comments section of the CNN article. Because there are still people that trust mainstream media, there are people that believe there is no link despite the many studies that, indeed, show such a link.

     So, while the studies above don’t particularly worry me about vaccines, the consistent mainstream lies about “no link” does worry me…why do they all keep repeating the same obvious lie? One reporter not taking five minutes to learn the truth can happen, but all of them? This is the sort of thing that makes mainstream media credibility low at best.

     The CNN article (and, I repeat, this article is typical) continues:

"If you analyze data enough times and enough ways, you're bound to find something that is statistically significant," said Witznitzer, after looking at both studies. "This does not mean that the result is a true positive (vs. a false positive) or meaningful."

      Not all mainstream articles say something like the above, but it’s actually important (and goes both ways, equally discrediting “no link” studies). A statistical study is basically a probability calculation…every time you do the study, you’re rolling dice. If the dice roll is strange enough (for example, you roll 3 sixes in a row) you say you’ve “found a link.” Otherwise, you say you found nothing. Since “strange” is in the eye of the beholder, you can always say you found nothing. Even more importantly since you can run the study several hundred times (if you have the money), you can, indeed, get a strange result eventually…or a non-strange result, if that’s what you want.

      I’ll talk more of the issues with all such studies next time, but the real issue here is, ultimately, the morality of mandatory vaccination. 

     Next time.