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Tag Archives: Autism

Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disabilities: Are We Poisoning Our Future?

brainscan“…many more chemicals than the known dozen or so identified as neurotoxicants contribute to a “silent pandemic” of neurobehavioral deficits that is eroding intelligence, disrupting behaviors, and damaging societies.”

from “Growing number of chemicals linked with brain disorders in children,” 14 Feb 2014, Harvard School of Public Health,

 

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Vaccinations, Autism, Psychics, and Silver Bullets

To solve complex problems, engineers try to identify all of the important variables that might be in play. Working from this list, each variable is analyzed and tested to determine its effect, if any, on the problem, until the root cause of the problem is identified. The root cause is often traced to a dominant variable, a Big Gorilla. Sometimes, however, it’s not possible to clearly identify a root cause, either because an important variable was not on the list, or because the cause is a combination of variables, and that combination was not considered.

Because we are prone to thinking there is always a single silver-bullet solution to every problem (see “The Single-Event Fallacy (Am I Psychic?)” in this post: “I’m Right! (Or Am I?)“), the possibility of a problem being caused by a combination of significant variables is often disregarded, making problem-solving efforts ineffective and even misleading. For example, a scientific study of thimerosal (50% mercury) in vaccinations may conclude that there is no correlation to autism, and the media will then shout, “Vaccinations don’t cause autism!” But this conclusion is not scientifically justified. For example, is there something else in vaccinations — either by itself or in combination with other factors, including thimerosal — that is linked to autism?

Therefore, in addition to all of the standard skeptical questions one should ask about any study (e.g., was there a control group? were statistics used properly? was the study funded by an organization that has a stake in the results?), it’s always good to be cautious about accepting overly broad conclusions from a study where only a single variable was considered.

Regarding autism and vaccinations, researchers have recently identified a correlation between the¬†Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccine and autism (“Hypothesis: Conjugate vaccines may predispose children to autism spectrum disorders,” discussed here). Hib can now be added to the list of possible significant variables (see “Off Topic: The Autism Epidemic) that may play a significant role in the perplexing and devastating puzzle of autism.

-Ed Walker

 

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ET Extra: Vaccines And Autism And Fraud

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

A Major Study Purporting To Show That The MMR Vaccine Causes Autism Has Been Shown To Be A Fraud: What Can We Learn?

A 1998 Lancet paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield et al concluded that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism. As a result, many parents refused to have their children vaccinated. On January 5 of this year the British Medical Journal (BMJ) declared that the Wakefield paper was a fraud.

Scientific corruption is, in my view, a most foul betrayal of the public trust. Hopefully Dr. Wakefield and his cohorts will receive appropriate punishment. Moving on, however, what can we learn from this revelation of fraud? There are two basic cautions provided by Engineering Thinking:

1. Wakefield’s Fraud Does Not Prove That Vaccines Are Safe

Since the Wakefield paper was a fraud, does this mean vaccines do not cause autism? No, drawing that conclusion would be a logical fallacy. This may seem counter-intuitive, but here’s an example to help clarify: Assume that I published a paper purporting to show that 2 + 2 = 4. In my proof I used erroneous math and logical fallacies. Therefore my paper did not prove that 2 + 2 = 4. However, that does not alter the fact that 2 + 2 = 4.

In other words, there is nothing in the Wakefield saga that allows one to eliminate the possibility that vaccines may contribute to autism.

2. The Link To Autism May Be Multi-Variable

Humans tend to look for a smoking gun — a single cause — to explain a fearful event. If we eliminate the smoking gun, then all is okay. However, some medical doctors have expressed concern about vaccinations based on mercury content, mixing of multiple vaccines, and other issues. The hypothesis is that it is a combination of variables, related to the production and/or application of vaccines, that may overwhelm the embryonic neurological system, causing damage that manifests as autism.

There are independent studies that strongly suggest that MMR vaccines are safe, but those do not necessarily constitute a proof. Unfortunately, many studies are flawed or even completely invalid because of the improper application of statistical methods. Failure to account for significant variables as mentioned above can also contribute to poor or invalid results.

Therefore what can we conclude?

Showing the Wakefield paper to be a fraud, as explosive and damaging as it may be, does not move the science forward with regard to the key question: do vaccines, under certain conditions, contribute to autism?

If anyone has some links to studies that are scientifically sound (that use appropriate statistics and that properly account for all variables), and which demonstrate that vaccines are indeed unambiguously not a factor in autism, please forward them to me for posting here.

In the meantime, the old clich√© “better safe than sorry” is best applied. Some suggestions for consideration can be found in an earlier blog: “Off Topic: The Autism Epidemic“.

-Ed Walker

 

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