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Keep your expectations low for autism hearing

November 28th, 2012 · 1 Comment · Junk science


C-SPAN 3 will broadcast today’s autism hearing live at 2 pm ET.  You can watch the House Committee on Government Operations and Reform online HERE.

Here is the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee list of witnesses. Each will have five minutes to present.

  • Coleen Boyle, Ph.D., Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Mr. Bob Wright, Co-Founder, Autism Speaks
  • Mr. Scott Badesch, President, Autism Society
  • Mr. Mark Blaxill, Board Member of SafeMinds, an anti-vaccine advocacy group
  • Mr. Bradley McGarry, Coordinator of the Asperger Initiative at Mercyhurst, Mercyhurst University
  • Mr. Michael John Carley, Executive Director, Global & Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership
  • Mr. Ari Ne’eman, President, Autistic Self Advocacy Network

There are so many things wrong with this hearing. First and foremost is the assumption by Rep. Dan Burton and others that autism is an epidemic. The title of the hearing, 1 in 88 Children: A Look Into the Federal Response to Rising Rates of Autism, assumes something for which there is no evidence. In epidemiology, the word “rates” refers to disease incidence, or an increase in the actual number of cases. This is not the same as the number of diagnoses, or prevalence. But Burton cluelessly conflates the two words, using them interchangeably to spread fear about a people like his grandchild.

So we have a congressional hearing predicated on a unproven notion, and a government scientist has five minutes to school a room full of politicians in the math-intensive science of epidemiology. But that doesn’t stop another committee member, U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Penn), from calling the hearing “an opportunity to raise awareness about autism.”

“Autism is something that affects a lot of families,” Kelly recently told the Erie Times-News. “This is a chance to educate ourselves about ASD and then educate our colleagues.”

Inviting Mark Blaxill of SAFE MINDS to educate Congress is like giving a creationist a seat at a science education hearing. Blaxill, who is not a scientist or a doctor, formed his conclusions about vaccines and autism some 13 years ago, and has been looking for evidence to support his beliefs ever since. That is the opposite of how science works. In 2000, he co-wrote a pseudo-scientific paper titled “Autism: A Novel Form of Mercury Poisoning.” To my knowledge, he has never admitted that his novel hypothesis has failed in every way. But he doesn’t have to, as long as grandstanding politicians such as Rep. Burton confer the title of “expert” on him.

Burton can’t even makes himself sound knowledgeable. He recently told a Roll Call reporter “If you get one shot and it has mercury in it, you get maybe a little bit of mercury in there that may not affect you neurologically. But it stays there, at least a part of it does. So when you have a number of shots, there’s an accumulation of it, and that’s when I think it can be real damaging.”

There are entire books filled with things Burton doesn’t understand about vaccines. For instance: thimerosal, once used as a vaccine preservative, has been absent from the pediatric schedule for ten years. A thimerosal molecule contains a single mercury atom. It is water soluble, and clears the body in about ten days. There is no evidence it accumulates in the brain. Elemental mercury, on the other hand, is found in everything we eat and drink, and our bodies have evolved (a controversial idea for Burton, I am sure) to deal with minute amounts of mercury and other potentially toxic substances. And then there’s this: the symptoms of mercury poisoning are not the same as symptoms of autism.

Rep. Burton has no doubt been told these things over and over, but as any true believer, he just doesn’t care. He formed his conclusion shortly after his grandson was born, and has been looking for confirming evidence ever since.

This man was re-elected to his house seat 14 times. Think about it.



1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Lara Lohne // Nov 29, 2012 at 11:14 am

    I don’t really believe that much will be accomplished with regard to this hearing. It’s pretty obvious to anyone with the ability to think logically, that it’s one last vain attempt by a retiring representative to have his last say on autism and vaccines. I feel hopeful though that his voice will be less then convincing now that actual autistics are going to be involved. So much may not be accomplished as far as autism services goes, but there is the potential that it will be significantly less damaging to the science behind autism then it would have been had autistics not been given a voice at all, as was the case 10 years ago. I believe this will also set a president when it comes to government making policy regarding assistance and services for autistic individuals and their families. So while the hearing itself will most likely be useless, the stage has been set for autistic advocates to finally be counted and acknowledged as being the best sources of information and experience when it comes to autism.

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