Italian study: Thimerosal not linked to autism

Yet another study shows no link between vaccines and autism, reports NPR.  “In the early 1990s, thousands of healthy Italian babies in a study of whooping cough vaccines got two different amounts of the preservative thimerosal,” which some fear causes autism.

Only one case of autism was found, and that was in the group that got the lower level of thimerosal.

Alison Singer, executive vice president of communications and awareness at Autism Speaks, recently resigned over the vaccine issue.

“Dozens of credible scientific studies have exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism,” she wrote in a statement. “I believe we must devote limited funding to more promising avenues of autism research.”

Singer, who has an 11-year-old daughter with autism, told Newsweek the vaccine question has been resolved. “We need to be able to say, ‘Yes, we are now satisfied that the earth is round’.”

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Comments

  1. An unvaccinated person is a deadly weapon. If anyone approaches my daughter with a deadly weapon I will respond appropriately.

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    Some kids, not the kids of vaccination nutcases but kids who have allergies to eggs or who are immune-compromised, really can’t safely be vaccinated against some diseases. And of course very young babies won’t be vaccinated against some diseases yet. No fair treating those kids as “deadly weapons.”

  3. Those whose worldview is defined by “vaccination -> autism” will not be convinced by this… it is a faith movement that even the church has difficulty inspiring.

  4. Donalbain from the UK says:

    Sadly, the scientific method is lost on too many people. Just as the word of a preacher in a pulpit is enough to convince people of the falsity of hundreds of years of geology and biology research, so a word from Jenny McCarthy will convince people of another completely false idea.

  5. I teach a fair number of autistic kids (7 just this year). I’d tend toward the theory that it is hereditary. I have had multiple siblings that fall at different places on the spectrum — whole autistic families (and you can see it in the parents, too).

    I’m not appreciative of the whole vaccination holy war. In the past few years I’ve had students with scarlet fever, whooping cough, and MEASLES, for heaven’s sake. Tons of mono. My children are all older, but the teachers who have infants at home are horrified at what they could be bringing home. And now hib is making a comeback.

  6. I had an older aunt who raised her children during the polio outbreaks. After hearing those stories, trust me, I am pro-vaccination.

    I think a lot of the anti-vaccination fervor – just like the raw-milk enthusiasts and others who would take us back to pre-Industrial Revolution conditions- is coming from people with little sense of history. We haven’t seen a large-scale deadly outbreak of a disease that could be prevented by vaccines in our lifetimes, so we fail to recognize the horror and the power of some diseases. I hope it doesn’t take such an outbreak to change people’s minds.

  7. This won’t make any difference to the folks with VDS (Vaccination Derangement Syndrome).

  8. linda seebach says:

    One case of autism? Out of “thousands”?

    More precisely. there may have been thousands of children involved somehow, but apparently not all of them were relevant to this point. NPR says “Ten years later, 1,403 of those children took a battery of brain function tests.”

    Still, 1 of 1,403?

  9. Cardinal Fang says:

    Lightly Seasoned, I read your post and thought, “What! There’s a vaccine against mono?! I need to get it for Fang Jr.” But there is no vaccine against mono, so Fang Jr and your students will have to take their chances.

  10. No, you’re right. No vacc against mono. Fuzzing lumping. But I do wonder where all of it is coming from. I used to see one or two students out with it. Now I’ll get four, five or more in a year.

    (I don’t think it is that students are swapping any more or less spit than they used to. Maybe they’re just less healthy overall.)

  11. Cardinal Fang says:

    As to autism, it’s generally agreed that there is a genetic component: engineers are disproportionately likely to have autistic children, and autistic people are disproportionately likely to have autistic siblings. But that doesn’t explain the explosive growth in autism in the couple of decades. I like the assortative mating theory: nowadays nerds are more likely to move to Silicon Valley and other nerd-havens, marry other nerds, and have nerdy and sometimes autistic children. But it’s just a theory.

  12. I think that theory is plausible. The district I work in is completely infested with college professors, engineers, and other highly intellectual types. Fifty years ago, where were the nerd women? Were they exposed to the nerd men? (And I say this as a nerd woman myself.)

    I will say, unlike with other disabilities, you almost never meet a dumb parent of an autistic kid.

    I have nothing against pasteurizing milk, but wish they would quit with ultra pasteurizing — makes it hard to find the right milk to make cheeses with.

  13. Andy Freeman says:

    > But that doesn’t explain the explosive growth in autism in the couple of decades.

    Different diagnosis capabilities does, as does a change in incentives.

    I’ve no doubt that autism researchers are correct when they claim that many autistics weren’t diagnosed in the past. Is it really likely that we’re currently diagnosing perfectly now? Is it impossible that we’re overdiagnosing?

  14. Cardinal Fang–I vote for the mating theory. You should see CalTech and JPL–so many parents of autistic kids, and then you meet dad, who’s like Bill Gates.

    Back in the day, lots of those guys didn’t marry and if they did, they found some woman not like themselves, thus sidestepping the changes of two recessive genes. But today–nerds galore.

  15. And Bill Gates is a classic example of an undiagnosed autistic kid. Yes, I think there is some over-diagnosis going on (especially attributing other problems to autism), but I think it is the catching of these “quirky kids” that is causing some of the bump in numbers.

  16. Cardinal Fang says:

    Kate,

    I know of two kids at CalTech. Both are on the autism spectrum. I’m sure there are plenty of non-autistics there, but autistic people are well represented at CalTech.

    The assortative mating theory is not that there’s some recessive autism gene, but rather that autism is a kind of super-nerdiness. That is, nerds are interested in systems rather than people, but an ordinary nerd has some ability to read and understand people. According to the theory, autistic people are nerds, but more so– they’re interested in systems to the exclusion of people, lacking the ability to understand what other people are thinking and feeling.

  17. Many years ago, many kids were simply labelled “retarded”; a label I have not heard in decades and which is now unacceptable. I think that a very significant part of the large increase in autism (which now includes various points on the autism spectrum disorder diagnosis) is a change in the parameters for diagnosis. The assortive mating hypothesis also makes sense.

  18. Cardinal Fang says:

    “A study by researchers at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute has found that the seven- to eight-fold increase in the number children born in California with autism since 1990 cannot be explained by either changes in how the condition is diagnosed or counted — and the trend shows no sign of abating.” — Science Daily reporting on a study published this month in the journal Epidemiology.

  19. Lightly Seasoned says:

    Mental Retardation (MR) is still an official designation.

  20. Andy Freeman says:

    > “A study by researchers at the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute has found that the seven- to eight-fold increase in the number children born in California with autism since 1990 cannot be explained by either changes in how the condition is diagnosed or counted — and the trend shows no sign of abating.”

    The account at the link doesn’t support the conclusion.

    From the article: “Hertz-Picciotto and Delwiche correlated the number of cases of autism reported between 1990 and 2006 with birth records and excluded children not born in California. They used Census Bureau data to calculate the rate of incidence in the population over time and examined the age at diagnosis of all children ages two to 10 years old.”

    Whilel that methodology does eliminate migration, it tells us nothing about how diagnosis may have changed. At best, it tells us how relative-to-age diagnosis changed over time but doesn’t tell us anything more about different times.

    For example, suppose that we ignored 75% 5 year olds in 1990. If we then started looking at half of the 5, that methodology would tell us that the rate of diagnosis in 5 went up by 50%. Yet, that methodology can’t tell us what fraction of any of those populations was tested or whether the testing criteria changed.

  21. Cardinal Fang says:

    The account at the link is poorly written, oops, sorry. In particular, it confuses a 56% increase with a 56 percentage point increase, an atrocious error, and there are other problems. The full article is pay-to-read, but here’s the abstract. I have not read the full article; I just included the link to point out that researchers are definitely looking at what is explaining the rise in autism diagnosis.

  22. Andy Freeman says:

    > I just included the link to point out that researchers are definitely looking at what is explaining the rise in autism diagnosis.

    I’ve no doubt that they’re looking. However, the question is whether they’re looking in a way that would tell us anything useful.

    Let’s put it another way. Is there any possible evidence that would convince the “vaccines cause autism” folks that vaccines don’t cause autism. If there isn’t ….

    I don’t have a position wrt autism because all of the evidence (for any conclusion) that I’ve seen is pretty bad. However, it’s pretty clear that it’s a religious issue, where evidence doesn’t matter, for the vast majority of the folks involved.