Autism Hysteria

So there is apparently a class action lawsuit going on over the supposed link between childhood vaccinations and autism. The short version is they blame thimerosal, a mercury based additive that until recently was used in a lot of vaccines.

So far, studies haven’t shown any significant correlation, let alone a proposed cause. There was one study, 10 years ago, that linked MMR and autism based on a 12 subjects, and that was recanted by the majority of the study’s authors (Wakefield study). Also, as pointed out in this blurb from SciAm, thimerosal was removed from vaccines 6 years ago and is being used less and less, but there has been no decline in new autism cases since then.

Yet there is a surprisingly large number of people who are completely convinced that vaccines are giving kids autism. So much so they aren’t getting their kids vaccinated because of it, and they claim grand conspiracies. Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Measles outbreak where I live in Brooklyn.

Why are they so convinced? Because of the huge increase in autism cases in the last two decades. Obviously if two things both went up at the same time, one must have caused the other right? I saw another study tying TV to autism based on the same excellent science of correlation = causation.

Yet very few of the articles mention what seems obvious to me – hasn’t what we call Autism totally changed in the last 3 decades? Back in the 80’s, I remember seeing programs on Autistic kids – they didn’t make any eye contact, barely talked, and spent their time making completely accurate animal carvings from wood or whatever. Nowadays we have an Autism Spectrum, with every other nerd on the internet diagnosed with the Asperger’s variety.

Why the heck do so few articles on this topic mention this huge change in diagnostic criteria? This isn’t cancer, this isn’t a disease with a clear yes/no daignosis, it’s based on behavioral observation.

Here’s a NY Times link that says what I’m trying to say better than I can:

Seems like technology has enabled doctors to become better at diagnosing Autism.

I’m guessing it’s because some asshole with “Kennedy” somewhere in his name got them excited. People love finding out about common things that will hurt them and their babies.

Whoa, hang on. No absolute decline, or no decline when adjusted for population growth?

Edit: A guy quoted in the article you link says that “the numbers have increased,” which sounds like what happens when I play Diablo 2, but he doesn’t indicate whether “the numbers” are absolute or adjusted.

Not sure. This is where the point was made, by Paul A. Offit, chief of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

Finally, vaccine makers removed thimerosal from vaccines routinely given to young infants about six years ago; if thimerosal were a cause, the incidence of autism should have declined. Instead, the numbers have continued to increase. All of this evidence should have caused a quick dismissal of these cases. But it didn’t, and now the court has turned into a circus. The federal and civil litigation will likely take years to sort out.

I don’t know where he got that, but I’m assuming if the 300%+ increase in autism cases of the last couple decades reversed in the last 6 years it would be pretty noticable. Maybe it hasn’t been studied though, I’m not sure, but it’s hard to imagine they’d switch from talking about incidence (cases per 1000) to absolute numbers.

The concept of a SYNDROME, along with correlations, and basic statistics is a prerequisite to understand basic implications in any newspaper article or policy. Democracy indeed.

Syndromes are a collection of symptoms - It’s like the Black Plague - they could recognize what it was but they didn’t know about the little germ carried by rat fleas.

Since the 90s there’s been an overdiagnosis of freaking conditions for kids. ADHD is one. Depression, to a certain extent, is another ***. Back in the day we would have called them “bad kids” and hit them till they obeyed. Now they are given excuses and coodled for their behavior. Maybe it’s related to the falling fertility rate - when you have six siblings, you gotta compete to even get food at the table, and if you don’t behave, nobody’s gonna care. AJ in the sopranos would have been dumped out on his ass long ago.

Some parents love ADHD as a diagnosis on their kids. It gives them a medical reason to blame for their kid’s behaviour.

Okay, done ranting.

*** I am hesitate to include depression because I am well-aware of true medical depression.

We had this panic attack in Britain a few years back and it soon led to outbreaks of measles. We had the highest number of cases in decades last year, many times more cases in a single county as there had been in the entire country the previous year, and all down to unsubstantiated alarm over MMR. The doctor responsible for the panic is currently facing a misconduct charge.


I think what you’re getting at may be an issue with wider implications, that our society hasn’t quite worked out yet.

It may very well be that the incidence of some physical issue that leads to autism symptoms (or ADHD, depression, etc.) is rather high - more like the current diagnosis figures than those from a few decades ago.

It’s probably a good thing to understand physical differences among children (including diagnosing those with autism), so that parents, educators, and others can adjust their styles and methods accordingly.

BUT, we, as a society, need to be very careful about using such diagnoses as excuses.

We see the same trend, to some extent, for adults. There may very well be a physical genetic component to alcoholism, obesity, or other adult problems. But excusing someone from the consequences of their alcoholism or obesity because there is SOME genetic predisposition is, IMO, wrong, and probably does a disservice to the individual.

Not to excuse them but identifying it as such could lead towards better treatment.

Good idea in principle, but in practice, it often leads to claims of essentially ‘full immunity’ for the issue in question.

Depending on how we define things, there are quasi-involuntary aspects (and probably, genetic components/dispositions) to virtually all human behavior. As an extreme example, most men desire sex with women (some probably feel this impulse more strongly than others), but that does not excuse rape.

Of course, this is generally understood in regards to rape, but we may have to readdress this issue as we discover genetic components to other bad behavior.

I’ve never heard of an alcoholic getting full immunity on a DUI, or maybe someone should let all those drug addicts serving time they’ve had immunity all along? Wtf? My brother’s schizophrenia and mania hasn’t gotten him out of jail.

I’ve never heard of a genetic predisposition granting someone full immunity for their actions, short of batshit insane. And I don’t recall those defenses working all that often.

Edit: Mental conditions are very easy to dismiss, especially when they aren’t totally debilitating, but that’s because when your mind works one way, it’s hard to imagine someone else’s does another.

It’s a somewhat touchy subject with me.

I’ve got a 17-month-old boy, and my wife is utterly paranoid about Autism, to the tune of having delayed his MMR immunization (she’s already planning to break it up into separate shots M, then M, then R, and now she’s delayed the whole thing and will give him the shots after he’s two years old).

She’s got a degree in molecular biology, so it’s not like she doesn’t understand how to read a medical study, and she understands the flaws in the research. But as a mother, she’s not coming from a particularly rational place. And in her case, her background actually works against her - she has a pet theory about how the combination of immunizations at a young age can trigger latent brain tissue inflammation in some small percentage of the population.

I’ve learned not even to argue with her about it - trying to get a mother to not be over-protective of her child is futile.

If my kid has any “behavioral issues,” no computer for him until he shapes up.

All these talks about studies and mercuries and scientists facing off, it just gets me all in a twist. Back where I’m from, we ain’t never had no problem with artistic children, being as we subscribe to the sharp rocks and hot sun school of birth defect treatments. We ain’t had no artistic kids in my family in generations, barring Uncle Richard, who pretended to not be artistic until he was apprehended road-side cavortin’ with a Hollywood type, after which he done stolen the family’s Nathan Bedford Forrest collectible plate set and pawned them and Poppa’s playin’ spoons on an antiques show, promptly fleeing with the proceeds to a tastefully appointed seaside community populated with more of his bedeviled yet sophisticated ilk. I know artism and homosexin’ ain’t the same thing, but frankly, I wouldn’t be the least bit suprised to find this increase in childhood artism carries with it an attendant and proportionate increase in uppity faggots tellin’ me my business.

So it ain’t a suprise to me that all this artism is comin’ from California.

I hear you bigdruid, I’ve got a 1 year old. But it’s probably worth mentioning that while there may be some as yet unproven unknown risk from the MMR vaccine, there is a very known risk from not getting one.

I was struck by the paranoia myself for a little while before looking into more in depth. Before thimerosal (which I’m sure you know isn’t in vaccines anymore anyway), there was that Wakefield MMR study. Again though, that was the only study that showed that link, and no other studies since have supported it.

It was based on 12 patients, and 10 of the 13 researchers involved recanted later in a follow up to the Lancet. The lead researcher, Andrew Wakefield, also “coincidentally” filed a patent for a “safer measles vaccine” a few weeks before triggering the big scare. This might have been the case Tim was referring to, I’m not sure.

*** I am hesitate to include depression because I am well-aware of true medical depression.

I understand your hesitation; the flip side of these things being over-diagnosed are the many people who truly suffer from them and won’t get help. And the fact that it’s overdiagnosed is one of the excuses those who actually suffer use to avoid help. And its true not just for depression but for ADHD, for OCD, for bipolar disorders… etc.

One of my pet peeves is incorrect correlation/causation conclusions. This looks like a classic.

I will say, however, I was in that category of parents who treated ADHD with a bah,humbug attitude and assumed it was merely kids who had normal but hard to handle kids and wanted something better than Nyquil to calm them down. Thus, when my youngest of 3 kids tested extremely high on her standardized tests, yet seemed unable to pass her classes, unable to study or get assignments done, etc. I assumed it was immaturity, laziness, being a teenager. We tried everything for her first two years of high school with no success, and she started thinking she was just not intelligent and building defensive mechanisms. But we watched her and could see that even a task as simple as folding the laundry would cause her to work for a few minutes then become visibly agitated and frustrated, she physically could not stay on task. She also could not sit through an entire class without standing up at some point (and she’s 15.) Finally, at her request, we took her through the battery of 4 doctors/psychs/social experts, with the questionaires for the teachers, etc. and the answer was extreme and classic ADHD. With the meds, which don’t affect her behavior in any way except that she can concentrate and focus, we see a big difference (although too late in the school year to avoid her probably having to repeat.) I wish we had diagnosed it two years ago and avoided her first two years of high school being so traumatic.

Mordrak - I didn’t mean (in general) legal immunity from crimes, but rather, the more general argument that one is not personally responsible for one’s condition, if there is at least some aspect (however slight) to it that is outside of your control. i.e. While I may sit on the couch eating Twinkies all day long, I’m not responsible for my obesity - it’s because of my genes (or my mother’s bad parenting, or advertising, or what have you).

And while I certainly don’t care to Google for it, I do seem to recall a case where an alcoholic was classified as disabled and used that classification to take advantage of certain (housing?) benefits that it seems the lawmakers had put in place for the handicapped, probably thinking more along the lines of those permanently physically handicapped for reasons more completely (IMO) out of their control. There are other examples too, including, of course, the “Twinkie Defense” put forth by an accused killer years ago.

I guess my point would be, unless they are wearing spandex in public, don’t worry about it. They’ll literally suffer the conesquences for it, bad health and possible death, not you.

And while I certainly don’t care to Google for it, I do seem to recall a case where an alcoholic was classified as disabled and used that classification to take advantage of certain (housing?) benefits that it seems the lawmakers had put in place for the handicapped, probably thinking more along the lines of those permanently physically handicapped for reasons more completely (IMO) out of their control.

Well, this is certainly an issue, but easily (as easy as it can get) remedied by changing the law to be more specific.

There are other examples too, including, of course, the “Twinkie Defense” put forth by an accused killer years ago.

I’ve never heard of it referred to “Twinkie Defense” until now, and can’t imagine it’s all that common, or let alone works that often when it is used. Seriously, if biology makes someone kill someone, that murderer should be still put away, less as a punishment, but more so for the saftey of society.

That doesn’t really meaningfully change how a “Twinkie Defense” murderer should be dealt with.

But anyway, you drew a parallel between rape and sexual drive that seemed like a slippery slope argument that was kind of absurd. We have 1% of our population in prisons, I doubt we’ll have any hesitation when punishing people for committing crimes.

Yeah, that’s the guy I was talking about malphigian :).