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Biotech Science

Thimerosal Does Not Cause Autism 298

jamie found an article over at Washington Monthly discussing the recent finding that there is no link between thimerosal and autism. It seems that after the mercury-based vaccine preservative was withdrawn from use in 1999, no drop in autism rates has been observed in a large California study. Here's the Science Daily writeup on the study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
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Thimerosal Does Not Cause Autism

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  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @03:59PM (#21958880) Homepage Journal
    Given that the folks shrieking the loudest about the thimerosal-autism 'link' (as if a single study that's since been discredited many, many times can be called a 'link') tend to be parents of autistic children who also tend to go in for bogus new-age nonsense like 'chelation' and 'collodial silver' treatments, I don't think the whole nonsense is quite over yet. It's definitely a nice step in the right direction, but no amount of proof will really convince conspiracy theorists that their pet paranoia is without merit--they merely will claim that the 'truth' is being 'covered up' by the Big Pharmaceutical companies, and that the government is out to poison your children with the evil vaccinations that 'confuse your immune system' leaving you 'open to illness.' Most of them would benefit from a good solid course in basic logic (to overturn the fallacies they base their 'theories' on) and in basic biology and chemistry. The best we can hope for, I suppose, is that they'll select themselves out of the gene pool by applying nonsensical and hazardous treatments to themselves and their offspring.
  • Inaccurate (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Goldberg's Pants ( 139800 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @03:59PM (#21958882) Journal
    While it may very well claim 1999, that was when it ceased being PRODUCED. They still used the old stock and THAT wasn't cleared until at least 2001. Also the flu shot contains mercury, and is administered to pregnant women now.

    Thimerasol has NOT been ruled out in causing individual cases of autism. Just that it is not the SOLE cause of autism. It's still a documented fact that US infants exposure to thimerosal increased starting around 1990, and that correlates with a huge spike in autism rates.

    It doesn't say thimerosal is safe, the study just shows it's not the ONLY cause of the tenfold increase in the rates of autism.
  • by Altus ( 1034 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:00PM (#21958900) Homepage

    Don't forget the added "benefit" that now people are extra scared of vaccines because of all of this.
  • Re:In other news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rhombic ( 140326 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:04PM (#21958978)
    I don't think in most cases it's about money. As a parent, there's a very low-level part of the brain that has a real need to defend one's child, and that means identifying threats to them and protecting them. When something goes wrong, there's a huge emotional drive to figure out what caused it, and to protect any other children from that threat. I'm sure there are a few folks who are in it for the money, but I think most of them just feel a need to figure out what caused harm to their child. Have a little compassion, these folks are having to deal with enormous life changes for both their child and themselves.

  • by tgibbs ( 83782 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:08PM (#21959064)
    After all, other countries have eliminated or dramatically reduced mercury in vaccines with zero effect on autism rates, and the mercury fanatics never batted an eye. Nor are they troubled by the fact that the neurological effects of actual mercury poisoning don't resemble autism.

    It's a bit like homeopathy in reverse. Many of these guys have a superstitious fear of "toxins," and no matter how low the level might be, they will be convinced that it is poisoning their kids.

    Of course, the real problem is that the age at which autism symptoms develop is about the same as the age when kids normally get their shots. A reasoned explanation of the difference between correlation and causality is often beyond the grasp of parents who are desperate for an explanation, or better yet, somebody to blame.
  • by seebs ( 15766 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:15PM (#21959198) Homepage
    A fascinating theory, but one as yet unsupported by data, and indeed, contrary to the data.

    Even if it were just "triggering" autism, the removal of thimerosal would, eventually, result in a change of the frequency of observed autism. It doesn't.
  • Re:Inaccurate (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Cathoderoytube ( 1088737 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:33PM (#21959546)
    Just wonderful.

    You should bare in mind the reason autism rates have increased is because the criteria for autism has been expanded since the 1980's. What previously wouldn't be counted as autism now is.

    As demonstrated it's not actually going to discourage anti-vaccine scumbags.
    The figure is something like if 10% of the population isn't vaccinated against an illness the herd immunity breaks down and an outbreak becomes possible. That's a nice thought.
    Another nice thought is if enough of these jackasses pull the pharmacutical companies to court over vaccines the pharmacutical companies won't see any point in making vaccines (since they get wrongly sued for doing so) so they'll just give up that practice.

    Now wouldn't that be a lovely situation?

  • Re:In other news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lurker2288 ( 995635 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:38PM (#21959614)
    I do sympathize with these parents, profoundly. But the fact is that very few of them have the expertise or the knowledge to make valid judgments about this issue, and yet they continue to spread unsupported claims about vaccination as though they were facts. This is potentially harmful to others and should be curtailed, regardless of how noble or humane their motivations might be.
  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:42PM (#21959690) Homepage Journal
    "What I would like to know is just how much research have people like you done into the issue?" Ad hominem attack. I would note that, as conspiracy theories are an area of special interest to me, I take great pains to research not only the nutbag nonsense, but the real science behind any claims. "Because I know a hell of a lot people, including some within the vaccine industry, who, if they posted here, could destroy every single one of your arguments." Appeal to authority. If you can't make your own argument, then kindly keep your mouth shut. "Most of the so called "fallcies" you claim are far from that." Caught two already. "The people I know who are anti-vaccine generally tend to be more intelligent, better educated and questioning than the people who aren't." I'm a bit rusty on my fallacies, for I've misremembered the name of this one--but no, you cannot claim that because your particular group is somehow 'smarter' your argument is automatically correct. It's a non sequitur. "If you had a child who was suffering from autism" Appeal to emotion, another fallacy. "How many medical experts have you spoken to about vaccines?" Appeal to authority, again. Namedropping the various folks at various departments of health whom I've spoken with about this will not 'prove' anything. The argument should stand on its own, without recourse to celebrity. "How many books have you read? How many studies have you read?" Many, including those disproving the only study to have claimed the aformentioned alleged 'link'. "Anyone who is at least interested in educating themselves" ...would do far better to take a course in basic logic and biology, like I said before, rather than reading that crackpot bit of nonsense. "I realise I am wasting my time here," Then why post? " I am sick of uneducated people bashing those who are anti-vaccine when they're uninformed. " Ad hominem, again. "If you've done all the research and still feel it's bogus, then fair play to you." I have, thank you. " someone I know" Friend of a friend third-hand knowledge is not valid for consideration, thank you. "Please, educate yourself. READ studies on vaccines etc... And I mean government studies, not the PR material that the companies put out." Yes, and that's why I know the alleged link was disproved. For someone who claims not to indulge in fallacy, you've certainly a great deal of it in your post.
  • You got that right (Score:3, Insightful)

    by why-is-it ( 318134 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:54PM (#21959874) Homepage Journal

    You should bare in mind the reason autism rates have increased is because the criteria for autism has been expanded since the 1980's. What previously wouldn't be counted as autism now is.

    That's for sure. My nephew is autistic, and I have met some of the other children who receive IBI therapy with him. I know that autism is a continuum and not a binary variable, but I think that calling some of those kids autistic is a bit of a stretch. Admittedly, I an no expert in such matters, and for all I know, the expanded diagnosis criteria is correct.

    Still, I wonder if doctors aren't diagnosing some children with autism who would have been diagnosed as mentally disabled a few years ago. Either analysis would be very difficult for a parent to hear, but autism would be the least traumatic assessment.

  • by SatanicPuppy ( 611928 ) * <.Satanicpuppy. .at.> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:55PM (#21959896) Journal
    Regardless of the Autisim link (which was thin at best) ethylmercury hasn't had the sort of widescale toxicity tests that bioaccumulating mercury compounds (e.g methylmercury) have had.

    Until that point, I'm not big on the idea of injecting a solution containing a large amount of ethylmercury into my body. Most mercury compounds aren't really anything that anyone would want to inject.

    It's no better to be irrationally pro-ethylmercury just because it's a good preservative...The reason the uninformed freak out so easily is because we leave ourselves open to this crap by not doing to full research.
  • Re:Inaccurate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ultramk ( 470198 ) < minus threevowels> on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @04:57PM (#21959922)
    Thimerasol has NOT been ruled out in causing individual cases of autism. Just that it is not the SOLE cause of autism. It's still a documented fact that US infants exposure to thimerosal increased starting around 1990, and that correlates with a huge spike in autism rates. ..... It doesn't say thimerosal is safe, the study just shows it's not the ONLY cause of the tenfold increase in the rates of autism.

    Correction, there's been a big increase in the rates of diagnosis of autism, which is an entirely different thing. Right before the so-called "spike" the medical journals were full of articles which resulted in the reclassification of behavioral problems previously classified under a plethora of different labels. This is natural, and a part of what happens when our understanding of a disorder improves.

    In a related note, there are precious few cases of "consumption" being diagnosed lately, and yet the number of people with drug-resistant TB continues to rise.

    Another example: for many decades, the estimate of the number of stars in our galaxy rose and rose, more each time a new monster telescope was built. Were the number of stars actually increasing, or was it just our ability to detect them that changed?
  • by RiddleofSteel ( 819662 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:06PM (#21960052)
    I met an Autism specialist who works for the school districts here in NY. She had some very interesting things to say about the increased rates. She said Autism wasn't increasing, just more children are being labeled Autistic. This is because children labeled autistic get all kinds of extra aid from the government that children who are just deemed learning disabled or have psychological problems don't get. So parents with mentally disabled children are increasingly encouraged to have their child autistic. It made sense to me, instead of some bogey man vaccine.
  • by Borealis ( 84417 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:09PM (#21960102) Homepage
    Curiously though I think there is a distinct lack of studies that show how the use of multiple vaccines at earlier ages affect autism. Given that a child's immune system is at best only partially developed before the age of six months, it's somewhat irritating to me that doctors regularly inject 7 vaccines at a time into children as young as 1 month of age. My own son developed infantile spasms (a degenerative seizure disorder) a week after his 3 month checkup where he was inject with the MMR, DtAP, and Varicella vaccines (MMR and DtAP each are combinations of 3 vaccines, giving him 7 total).

    Anecdotally, of the 6 children in my son's special education kindergarten class, 3 of the children developed seizure disorders within a week of similar vaccinations, one of which was administered at one week of age. Most countries wait until at least 6 months of age before beginning the injections of MMR and DtAP vaccines.

    Personally I think that thimerisol is a red herring distracting folks from considering any contributing factors of age and volume of vaccines administered. I think we'd do well to compare current vaccinations correlation to autism versus a program that staggers vaccinations with individual vaccines starting at 6 months of age to see how much that contributes to the rate of autism.
  • by slcdb ( 317433 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:52PM (#21960900) Homepage
    Most likely, there are a number of things that are causing a rise in the rate of children diagnosed with autism. What makes the anti-thimerosal camp so certain that it can be pinned down on any one thing?

    Here are my top five "better suggestions":

    5) Increased genetic susceptibility among the human race as a whole.
    4) Increased awareness of autism spectrum disorders.
    3) Better diagnostic methods.
    2) Relaxed criteria for positive diagnosis.

    And my #1 favorite:

    1) Any of a number of synthetic chemicals children might be exposed to in increasing amounts today, rather than decreasing amounts like thimerosal.

    It could be any combination of any, all, or none of the above. Chances are it's more than just one thing and, as this study suggests, thimerosal does not appear to be one of them.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @05:58PM (#21961012)

    He puts the same level of fact (and coincidentally, about the same mix of ad hominem and frustration) as in your original post, and you tear him apart.
  • Re:Inaccurate (Score:3, Insightful)

    by makomk ( 752139 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:13PM (#21961288) Journal
    Well, mercury on its own isn't particularly toxic. However, most organic mercury compounds are toxic, usually more so than mercury itself. In fact, one of the nastiest chemicals around, dimethylmercury, is an organic mercury compound - incredibly toxic, passes rapidly through all types of laboratory gloves, no real treatment. (This was first discovered after a chemist spilled a couple of drops on her glove by accident. She didn't show symptoms until several months later, then died a few weeks after that despite receiving the best treatment available.) Thimerasol may well be harmless, but your argument is too simplistic.
  • Re:In other news (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @06:44PM (#21961806) Homepage Journal
    I do understand. My sister has an autistic son as does my wife's brother. They level of autism is vastly different as are the distances. I hate to use the word ignorance because frankly I am pretty ignorant when it comes to biology. I would but my knowledge at about the same level as a good first year college student but not any higher. I would say it is more fear, panic, and guilt. If it is genetic then it is one or both of the parents faults "in their mind". If it is something in the environment then it is their fault for not protecting their child "in there mind". If it is a vaccination that they where told was safe because some company put in a harmful chemical then it really isn't their fault. Guilt is a terrible motivator but a very human one. Unless your involved with an autistic child I doubt you can understand just what is like. I agree with everybody when they say that vacinations are not the cause. What I am simply saying is that judging these people without a big dose of compassion, understanding, and maybe just a bit of empathy isn't helpful.

    What the worlds needs now is empathy and more understanding. But that is just my opinion.
  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @07:35PM (#21962468) Journal
    But I had NO issues with the vaccine having thiemerasol. WHy? Because there has been NOTHING credible about it in 10 years. In fact, 2 of the 3 scientist who wrote the ONLY real paper on it, now refute it. Were either of my children injected with it? I have no idea. There are FAR more important issues to worry about rather than something as ridiculous as that.

    BTW, children can die by water, even in a bath. ANd that is fact, not just "alter" of science. I know. I have pulled them from the bottom of a lake. You going to keep your children out of the tub as well as not allow them to drink water?
  • Fallacy != falsity (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @08:09PM (#21962864)
    You apparently fail to understand that the form of argumentation does not necessarily affect its truth value.

    Perhaps your response would have been satisfactory and appropriate on a fallacy-identification exam in a college course on debate or formal logic. In a casual discussion on a social forum - actually, even in a formal debate this would be true - your response is inappropriate and nearly meaningless.

    The fact that someone modded you up for posting a 300-word version of "bad form!" is ridiculous. This isn't class and you aren't the teacher. Grow up.
  • by domatic ( 1128127 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @08:40PM (#21963194)
    This parent of an autistic child became a hard boiled skeptic on "miracle cures" like chelation very quickly. Some autistics DO respond favorably to a restricted diet but but by no means all. The only thing that I'm convinced works consistently is intensive structured activities. I'm honestly not sure whether or under what conditions thimerosal is harmful. Even if it isn't terribly harmful to adults, I have severe doubts about pumping large amounts of it into very small very young bodies. It is true that correlation isn't causation but some of our child's most heartbreaking regressions came shortly after vaccines. It is very very easy to be blasé about such things if you aren't faced with parenting such a child and if you are it is very very easy to agonize over whether something you allowed to happen damaged your child.

    I also wonder whether the vaccines themselves aggravate a tendency towards autism disorders. Thimerosal may well be a red herring masking something real. Our kids get hep-b shots pumped into them immediately after birth and a whole rainbow of shots come in the first year. Vaccinating is done much more aggressively then when I was a kid. 20 or 30 years ago, many of these shots weren't given until between the ages of 4 and 6. The most critical neurological developments take place in the first five years of life and it is only recently that we started vaccinating the hell out of kids that young.

    When my child was less than a year old and we were new parents, it seemed to me that the relative risk of disease versus negative effects of vaccines favored getting the shots. We've had a lot of anguish over whether that was the right thing to do. So I'm no conspiracy theorist but you might want to try a mile in these shoes before dismissing concerns about vaccines so readily.
  • by ClamIAm ( 926466 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @10:14PM (#21964092)
    I was enjoying your post until I read this:

    The argument should stand on its own, without recourse to celebrity.

    To me this seems to be implying that expert opinion is not a valid thing to base an argument on. However this isn't true. If we do not take into consideration who, for example, conducted a medical study, it's much harder to place a value upon its conclusions. Appeals to authority are not all fallacious.
  • by seaturnip ( 1068078 ) on Tuesday January 08, 2008 @10:44PM (#21964300)

    Of course it's possible to reach that conclusion, the evidence has not ever supported the supposed link with autism. This new study is nothing more than another nail in the coffin of this conspiracy theory.

    As for "safety", what is much more unsafe than a tiny amount of mercury is vaccinating less people against horrible diseases. Many vaccines have always been slightly unsafe (e.g. those made from weakened but complete germs) and that has never been an argument for avoiding vaccination.

  • by Wilson_6500 ( 896824 ) on Wednesday January 09, 2008 @12:32AM (#21965062)
    I forget where I first read this (I think it was one of the Quackwatch articles). Credit to whomever first said it.

    Oxygen and hydrogen are explosive and flammable gasses. Water is made of oxygen and hydrogen. It is obviously wrong, though, to posit that drinking water will cause a person to catch fire and explode.

    It's not a completely parallel situation, natch, but it's vivid enough an example that people might actually listen.

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard