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.

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