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Throwing mud

February 25th, 2008 · 6 Comments · Careless sourcing, Junk science

It’s a matter of faith among most politicians that if you throw enough mud at your opponent that some is bound to stick, truth be damned. Agenda driven anti-vaccine activists have know this for years, so it’s important for journalists covering the autism news beat to recognize some of the more blatant and frequently used canards.

A letter to the editor in the Lawrence Journal-World last December contains all the half truths, insinuations, and flat-out confabulations one would expect from a movement that long ago jettisoned science in favor of guerrilla marketing.

To the editor:

Health of our children under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention continues to decline. The United States is ranked 41st in infant mortality. Who are the 40 countries that have lower rates of infant death?

One in four children has asthma. One in six children has a neurobehavioral and/or developmental disability. Could it be that we inject infants, on their day of birth, with hepatitis B vaccines that still contain up to three micrograms of neurotoxic mercury as well as aluminum?

Where are the front page headlines when major autism researchers re-examine their research and say “oops” or when the Department of Justice conceded that thimerosal contributed to a child’s autism?

Dr. Catherine DeSoto and Dr. Robert T. Hitlan both have a Ph.D. in medicine and had the courage to admit in the Journal of Child Neurology, “We have reanalyzed the data set forth originally reported in 2004 and have found that the original P value was in error and that a significant relation does exist between the blood levels of mercury and diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder. Moreover, the hair sample analysis results offer some support for the idea that persons with autism may be less efficient and more variable at eliminating mercury from the blood.”

We are failing our children’s health. It is time to help stop poisoning kids.

Linda Weinmaster,


First, the hepatitis B vaccine does not contain “up to three micrograms” of mercury. From the CDC’s own website we learn:

All hepatitis B vaccines intended for use in infants and children are free of thimerosal as a preservative, and an adequate supply of these vaccines is available for all infant and childhood vaccinations. This vaccine should be administered to all newborn infants and is a major cornerstone in the prevention of a potentially fatal disease in children and adults.

A Google search for “hepatitis B vaccine” +thimerosal yields a bumper crop of quack medical sites, including which tells us Hep B contains up to 25 micrograms of mercury. This is nonsense. Anybody can spin a defamatory yarn, and some will continue to as long as newspapers publish them.

Moving on, Dr. Catherine DeSoto and Dr. Robert T. Hitlan are not “major autism researchers”, nor were they the authors of the original paper they criticized, as the letter writer wants us to believe. DeSoto and Hitlan do not each have a PhD in medicine because there is no such degree. They are PhD psychologists. Why does the writer feel it is necessary to make stuff up? Did she not research her letter first? Or is she relying on fabrications to cover up a lack of evidence for her claims? Falsely proclaiming the two psychologists as medical experts confers a level of respectability that these claims do not deserve. The DeSoto paper does not prove that mercury causes autism – you can read a detailed critique here.

Despite what anti-vaccine activists tell us, the Department of Justice did not “concede that thimerosal contributed to a child’s autism” because there is no sound evidence that mercury in any form causes autism. This slur was lifted from fringe anti-vaccine groups who deliberately misread the respondent’s notice in the ongoing Vaccine Court Hearings. The respondents told the special masters that vaccines caused a significant aggravation of an underlying condition in one of the petitioners’ test cases. Serious adverse reactions do happen from time to time, which is why the Vaccine Injury Compensation Fund was created 20 years ago.

The oft-repeated claim that “one in six children has a neurobehavioral and/or developmental disability,” is a self-serving interpretation of normally distributed data on a bell curve. It’s akin to saying that half of all children are below average. Here’s a graphic explanation of the “one in six” canard.

One in six children are below the one standard deviation below, and one in six are one standard deviation above. (ht: bm)
Yes, the US infant mortality rate is far too high, but there is no evidence that vaccines are to blame. Infant mortality tends to be a proxy for extreme poverty, and few developed countries with lower infant mortality rates have poverty rates close to that of the US. The best way to combat infant morality is with more prenatal screening and counseling, low cost or free health care, and education. Scaring parents into foregoing vaccinations for their children does not prevent deaths.

We are failing our children’s health. It is time to help stop poisoning parents’ minds with phony conspiracies and fear mongering.

This article was originally posted here.



6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 isles // Feb 25, 2008 at 9:37 am

    Boy, if the anti-vaccine nuts want to be taken seriously, they ought to stop lying so darn much.

    There are no words strong enough for people who, with no expertise to back them up, go around screaming that parents shouldn’t vaccinate their kids. They don’t even have the sense to feel ashamed when kids are hurt or die because of this kind of thinking.

  • 2 Club 166 // Feb 25, 2008 at 1:17 pm

    …Yes, the US infant mortality rate is far too high, but there is no evidence that vaccines are to blame. …

    In fact, comparing US infant mortality rates to other countries is fraught with more hazard than trying to estimate prevalence of autism from California DDS statistics.

    The biggest reason that you can’t compare US infant mortality to other countries is that different countries count “live birth” in a different manner.

    As this article details, most European countries put restrictions (in terms of how much the baby needs to weigh or how long it is) before it can be counted as a live birth. Other countries may not count a baby as being born until it survives for 1-7 days. This significantly skews the statistics for infant mortality (as well as longevity).


  • 3 Ms. Clark // Feb 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Thanks, Autism News Beat. Linda W. has a real problem with facts, doesn’t she?

    And thanks Club 166 for that explanation. I bet Linda “Why verify facts when it’s so easy to make stuff up” Weinmaster would say that pointing out the problem with infant mortality as compared to other countries all part of the conspiracy.

  • 4 isles // Feb 25, 2008 at 3:16 pm

    Echoing Ms. Clark – thanks, Joe, I never knew that about the infant mortality statistics. Very interesting!

  • 5 lions and tigers // Feb 29, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Many good points. But the comment about the Standard deviation makes no sense. Which of the six SD’s displayed is being referred to? Does the author mean to say “A standard deviation?” instead of “THE standard devaition”? If so, this still does not make sense. Sigh. Perhaps the author means 16% are above one SD and 16% are below? This would be essentially true.
    Linda W. did make some mistakes, she seems to have read them on line in another site. I wonder if anyone will misundestand SD’s based on this website…. if so, there whole aregument would be thrown out.
    Why make up stuff when it is so easy to check (try wikipedia for SD’s and stop throwing bricks in when you live in glass house.

  • 6 autblog // Feb 29, 2008 at 2:15 pm

    Yes Bull Moose, that’s exactly what I meant. A=one. Thanks for the correction.

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