It’s baaaack! The Monster that Will Not Die! The persistent claim that vaccines cause autism! OOOOHHHH!!!! NO!!!!!
So, this got posted to my wall on Facebook: “International scientists have found autism’s cause. What will Americans do? Five clear, replicable, and related discoveries explaining how autism is triggered have formed an undeniably clear picture of autism’s causation, and possibly ways to alleviate the symptoms, too.”
Oooh! A link to Some Dude’s Blog which in turn links to five honest-to-goodness studies. Very impressive. Let me blog about this in more or less real time while I read/investigate/analyze it.
First off, who is this Some Dude? Unsurprisingly, J.B. Handley is a long-time anti-vaxx crank. I’m surprised I hadn’t heard of him before. He’s known for claiming that mercury in vaccines cause autism… no, wait… aluminum in vaccines cause autism… or something in vaccines causes autism, he’s sure of it, because, well… reasons.
OK, the first study is by Chris Exley, et al on the subject of aluminum in vaccines causing autism from a journal called Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology. The first problem with such a claim is that the amount of aluminum in vaccines is trivial in relation to the aluminum we ingest from other sources. So, why should it be the Al in vaccines that causes autism? The Exsleys and Handleys of the world claim that mercury injected in vaccines has extra-scary properties which make it rush through the blood brain barrier like water through a hull breach on the Titanic or something. Sorry, paranoid, sciencey-sounding twaddle (nanoparticles! macrophage! ) aside, aluminum is aluminum. Once it’s in your bloodstream, it doesn’t matter how it got there. And 90+% of the aluminum in your blood got there from your food.
Remember Impact Factor from my previous blog on vaccines and autism? Well, Scijournal.org gives Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology an impact factor of 3.225. For comparison, Cell, one of the top journals, rates a 30.41 from the same source.
And, surprise, surprise, Exley is a crackpot. He’s also on the board of the very journal which accepted his dubious paper for publication.
So, we’ve got ridiculous claims made by a crackpot published in a unimpressive journal cited by an anti-vaxx layperson. Wonderful. Persuasive.
Continuing to read Handley’s blog post, I get confused. Handley writes about neuroscientist Paul Patterson’s work at Caltech. As near as I can tell, Patterson’s work was well respected. Some of his work concerned causes of autism, specifically immune responses in pregnant women as a possible cause of autism, but I don’t see anywhere (oh, wait, there’s one highly speculative mention of the flu vaccine in a magazine article, not a journal, that Handley cites) that he specifically fingers vaccines as a possible cause. And the anti-vaxxers in general aren’t claiming that vaccines given to pregnant women are causing autism in the babies; they’re mostly claiming that vaccines administered to the children are causing autism in those same kids, which flies in the face of the overwhelming scientific consensus that autism is predominantly caused by genetic and epigenetic factors. Now, IF the claim was that vaccines given to pregnant women were causing autism in the offspring, AND IF we had evidence that vaccines given to pregnant women caused the “maternal immune activation” that Patterson hypothesized, then they’d have something, as the maternal immune activation would fall under the epigenetic heading. But neither condition is true, so it’s just a strange tangent. Or maybe Handley is just throwing random blobs of poo at the wall and hoping some of it sticks.
Handley goes on the cite the work of Chris Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic at the University of British Columbia, whose paper was recently retracted by its journal for the silly little quibble of fraud. Unsurprisingly, Handley doesn’t bother to mention this. Far more prominent careers than Shaw and Tomljenovic’s have been destroyed over far more minor transgressions. Quacks of a feather flock together.
Good gravy, Handley’s blog post is long. I’m only a third of the way through and I’m sick and tired of slogging through bullshit. That’s enough for now. Maybe I’ll get back to it.