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April 26, 2009

I just posted the following on a message board.

The vaccination issue is very troubling. In spite of of a broad scientific and medical consensus that vaccines do not have a role in causing Autism, many parents are refusing them for their children. Some believe that there is a conspiracy of one sort or another by the pharmaceutical industry.

The problem with this view, aside from the possible medical consequences of being unvaccinated, is that no studies in peer-reviewed journals, including those performed by researchers without a connection to the pharmaceutical industry, report a causal relationship. Sadly, the anti-vaccination issue has turned into a popular social movement, which makes it difficult to challenge.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. _Arthur permalink
    April 26, 2009 4:22 pm

    The problem is even worse than you state. Any new study showing no link between vaccines and autism _WILL_ be disregarded as a ploy from the Evil Big Pharma.

    Some of those antivax piously claim “More studies are needed”, while ignoring the current studies results, and planning to ignore any further study that does not support their blinkered worldview.

    • April 26, 2009 7:48 pm

      Yes. For a host of reasons, I am not a fan of the pharmaceutical industry either. However, there is plenty to criticize, legitimately, without making things up and justifying them by appealing to unsupported conspiracies.

  2. Chuck permalink
    April 27, 2009 10:22 am

    Objectively define autism as it is currently described within all the epidemiological studies that disprove any causation.

    If you include leukemia, melanoma, pancreatic cancer, and lung cancer as cancer, then it become impossible to prove smoking is a causal agent that increases the likelihood of being diagnosed with cancer.

    Current epidemiological studies can choose to be specific in limiting comorbid conditions or lackluster in not determining other genetic abnormalities that may contribute to behaviors associated with an ASD diagnosis.

    So what do the culmination of these nebulously defined epidemiological studies really tells us about their ability to objectively define what ASD is and what causes the many different issues for those diagnosed on the spectrum?

    If the population cannot even be globally defined, how are the results of these studies even relevant?

    • April 27, 2009 4:23 pm

      Causation, in the sciences, is an alternative hypothesis. Any alternative hypothesis is only accepted, tentatively, after the null hypothesis has been rejected. That is the process of empirically based induction. The person who accepts the null hypothesis does not need to prove anything, since the null hypothesis is assumed to be correct.

      To put it another way, the burden of proof in any study of causation is on the researcher. The null hypothesis (no difference) is assumed at the outset. To this point, there have been no studies, in peer-reviewed journals, in which the null hypothesis of no difference (between individuals who have and have not been vaccinated) has been rejected relative to Autism. Speculations and anecdotal accounts are not relevant.

  3. Chuck permalink
    April 28, 2009 8:27 am

    If the researcher is incapable of defining the population then the study becomes completely worthless.

    If different studies define different population then they cannot be consolidated to prove anything about a specific population. So what exactly to all the current epidemiological studies really tell us about causation and the populations studied?

    They cannot prove the alternative hypothesis because they have never been able to objectively define the population.

  4. April 28, 2009 9:15 pm

    Chuck, those differences are taken into account by researchers.

    In any event, as I used to say when I debated against creationists: An absence of evidence is not an evidence of absence.


  5. Chuck permalink
    April 29, 2009 9:01 am

    Actually Mark, those differences are not spelled out in each of the studies and are subjectively defined on a study by study basis. In epidemiological study, the absence of defining your controls weakens your results. This isn’t a belief system, it is observable science.

    How many different populations are defined according to these studies? Saying one defined population is a lie. Saying the collective results apply to one population is also a lie.

    • April 29, 2009 1:02 pm


      Are you talking about individual studies or about published papers which attempt to put them all into perspective? Obviously, articles in the first category are not going to spend much time comparing populations, except perhaps in the literature review. However, I have read numerous papers in the second category which do precisely that.


  6. Chuck permalink
    April 29, 2009 2:20 pm

    Do the papers in the second category state that the reviewed information has the same population criteria for the studies reviewed? If it doesn’t state that then you have to go back and review the population criteria for each study. Most of the second category papers that I have been able to review do not state that and muddy the water of what population is reviewed when the population criteria are not the same. The union of several studies that have mostly congruent populations may define a population that is statistically different then the original target population of any individual study sited.

  7. April 29, 2009 5:26 pm


    I am in the midst of grading term papers and getting ready to administer final exams, so I don’t have time to find multiple sources. However, here is one:

    “Outcome research in Asperger syndrome and autism,” Katherine D. Tsatsanis, Ph.D. Child Adolesc Psychiatric Clin N Am 12 (2003) 47– 63


  8. Chuck permalink
    April 30, 2009 8:23 am

    The article is interesting, but doesn’t address the vaccine issue that is the topic of discussion.

  9. April 30, 2009 3:01 pm


    I have seen one in particular, as I recall, which did focus on that issue, but this is the end of the academic year, which is always the busiest time for me (grading, committees, etc.). I don’t have time right now to do a search.


  10. May 21, 2009 3:12 pm

    What is truly sad about the entire thing is the inability of these folks to tell the difference between heavy metal toxicity and neurological difference. In addition to which – I truly wonder about many of those folks – seems to me (as Aspergian mom to 5 kids somewhere on the spectrum) that they are unlabeled spectrumites and Vaccines and Why Autism cannot Possibly be Genetic are their “special focus”

    • May 28, 2009 1:34 am

      >>… and Why Autism cannot Possibly be Genetic are their “special focus”<<

      Interesting thought.

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