About the SA Blog Network

Guest Blog

Guest Blog

Commentary invited by editors of Scientific American
Guest Blog HomeAboutContact

The Huffington Post and the ongoing fear that vaccines might cause autism

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Email   PrintPrint

Almost exactly 13 years ago, Andrew Wakefield addressed a group of reporters in a conference room at London’s Royal Free Hospital to discuss a 12-child case study he and some colleagues had written up positing a theoretical connection between the measles-mumps-rubella virus and gut disorders and then between those gut disorders and autism. Before the news conference began, Wakefield and four other experts had agreed that because the paper was so speculative, they’d deliver one overarching message: Further research needed to be done before any conclusions could be drawn, and in the meantime, children should continue to receive the MMR vaccine.

As I write in The Panic Virus (Simon & Schuster, 2011), once the tape recorders began to roll, however, Wakefield went dramatically off-script:

"With the debate over MMR that has started," he said, neatly eliding over the fact that he was, at that very moment, the person responsible for igniting the debate, "I cannot support the continued use of the three vaccines given together. We need to know what the role of gut inflammation is in autism. …My concerns are that one more case of this is too many and that we put children at no greater risk if we dissociated those vaccines into three, but we may be averting the possibility of this problem." [A short excerpt describing this news conference and detailing why case studies cannot be used to draw broad conclusions can be found here.]

The reporter and writer David Kirby uses a similar rhetorical trick in today’s Huffington Post, in an article titled "The Vaccine-Autism Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away." In the six years since Kirby published his book Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic – A Medical Controversy, he’s become one of the main reasons this "debate" won’t "go away." He’s promoted the theory that vaccines might cause autism on Don Imus’s radio show, he’s appeared on Larry King Live, and he’s debated public health officials on Meet the Press.

Again and again and again, Kirby has changed the "proof" he says is needed to demonstrate that vaccines are safe. In the epilogue to his book, Kirby quoted a parent saying that if the thimerosal theory was correct, autism rates should start to go down by 2005, which was four years after thimerosal had been removed from childhood vaccines. Then in 2005, he told Imus, "It’s going to take another two years before we know whether [thimerosal] has been causing the rise." In 2007, autism diagnoses were still going up; since then, he’s advanced an array of new theories. In his piece today, Kirby says that "the ranks of the devastated but convinced" who believe vaccines are to blame for their children’s autism will continue to grow because "there is nothing that anyone can do or say — not you, not me, not any scientist on earth — until definitive proof of all the true causes of autism is found." That, of course, is completely nonsensical: We don’t need to know what does cause each and every case of autism to feel confident saying that certain things are not the cause. (By that logic, the long-discredited "refrigerator mother" theory — that autism was the result of emotionally frigid mothers — would still be in play.)

Kirby begins what is being billed as part one of a two-part series by describing how he’s "been speaking to young parents in my neighborhood of Park Slope, Brooklyn, lately about vaccines and autism. …These are highly educated, affluent and politically progressive people—doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, writers and other successful professionals." Why is it, he asks, that "so many educated, successful parents still believe that the current vaccine schedule can hurt a small percentage of susceptible kids, and that some of those injuries might result in an autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?"

One reason, of course, is that they keep reading stories that don’t acknowledge that the conclusions of hundreds of scientists who have studied data from millions of children is that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. Another is, as Kirby says, that many of these parents hear "evidence…from friends, family and business associates whose children had an adverse vaccine reaction, got sick, stopped talking and never recovered. It’s a fact that many children with ASD regressed following normal development just as they were receiving multiple vaccines at regular doctor visits."

To state as fact that the children of these "friends, family and business associates" had "an adverse vaccine reaction" is irresponsible and untrue. What is true is that there are many parents who believe that their children had an adverse reaction. What is also true is that in many cases in which there is actual evidence—contemporaneous medical records, videotapes, etc.—as opposed to the anecdotes that Kirby is referring to, what parents remember occurring and what actually occurred are two different things.

Kirby has been employing similar sleights-of-hand for years. On May 23, 2009, I heard him speak at a conference sponsored by AutismOne, a group whose mission statement reads, "The great majority of children suffering from autism regressed into autism after routine vaccination. …Autism is caused by too many vaccines given too soon." He began his speech by telling the audience they were under siege. "This conference was described by The New York Times as ‘an anti-vaccine conference,’" he said. "And, you know, when I read that I actually laughed out loud." That label, Kirby said, "is used as a weapon. It is used as a tool against people like me. And even though it’s a lie, it is so much easier to dismiss somebody if you think that they’re anti-vaccine."

Kirby’s opening confused me: I’d been monitoring the Times for coverage of the conference and hadn’t seen any. When he repeated his claim in a Huffington Post story, "Notes From the Big ‘Anti-Vaccine’ Conference," I decided to dig into the archives to figure out what I had missed. To my surprise, the Times had never mentioned the organization or its conferences by name in any context. Kirby’s reference, it seemed, was to a sentence that appeared in the 36th paragraph of a 41-paragraph March 17, 2009 story about the offer by one activist to pay for some Somali immigrants living in Minnesota "to attend an anti-vaccine conference."

In today’s Huffington Post piece, Kirby once again creates an us-versus-them dynamic in an attempt to draw anyone who has ever worried about vaccine safety to his side. "Parents who say the vaccine-autism link has not been debunked are, like me, hardly ‘anti-vaccine,’" he writes. "Why on earth would anyone not want to protect children from dangerous diseases? That is the epithet hurled upon most of them anyway. And it’s what people will say about me as well, even though, as I said, I think parents should vaccinate their kids." Of course, he also "believes" that more than 7,500 Americans under the age of 21 suffer from "a vaccine-associated ASD [autism-spectrum disorder]" – and if that’s true, Kirby says, "their parents would be neither anti-vaccine nor lunatic fringe. They would be right."

Kirby, who worked in politics and public relations before he became a journalist, is an extremely persuasive messenger, but he seems not to understand that to engage in science is not to be ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-’ anything. By obscuring the difference between anecdotes and evidence, fomenting unfounded fears, and disguising tendentious tracts as objective analyses, he might be influencing public opinion, but he’s not helping the search for verifiable truth.


About the author: Seth Mnookin’s most recent book, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, examines the controversies surrounding autism and vaccines to explore how we decide what counts as truth. You can follow him on Twitter at @sethmnookin. His blog, as well as regular updates about the book and his public appearances, can be found on his website,

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


Comments 51 Comments

Add Comment
  1. 1. lamorpa 10:53 am 02/12/2011

    "We vaccinated our children until their immune systems could no longer handle all the vaccines."

    You actually didn’t state this correctly. You meant, "We vaccinated our children until, some time later, a malady effected them which, without any proof or documented causal connection, we decided to believe that their immune systems could no longer handle all the vaccines, without using any measure of immune response itself, or any other validated measure."

    Link to this
  2. 2. NoseWhistle 12:38 pm 02/12/2011

    Serum Albumin is used in various vaccines. It undergoes a slow glycosylation with time, that’s why it must be refrigerated before use. But what if "much" time elapses before the vaccine is administered or the delivery conditions are hotter than expected? What if some other condition is combining to lower the danger threshold, e.g. Radon is hazardous at 2 ppm, but what if conditions combine to make it hazardous at 1 ppm?

    "It has been known for a long time that human blood proteins like hemoglobin[5] and serum albumin[6][7] may undergo a slow non-enzymatic glycation, mainly by formation of a Schiff base between -amino groups of lysine (and sometimes arginine) residues and glucose molecules in blood (Maillard reaction). This reaction can be inhibited in the presence of antioxidant agents.[8] Although this reaction may happen normally,[6] elevated glycoalbumin is observed in diabetes mellitus [7].
    Glycation has the potential to alter the biological structure and function of the serum albumin protein.[9][10][11][12]
    Moreover, the glycation finally can result in the formation of Advanced Glycosylation End Products (AGE), which result in abnormal biological effects. Accumulation of AGEs leads to tissue damage via alteration of the structures and functions of tissue proteins, stimulation of cellular responses, through receptors specific for AGE-proteins, and via generation of reactive oxygen intermediates. AGEs also react with DNA, thus causing mutations and DNA transposition. Thermal processing of proteins and carbohydrates brings major changes in allergenicity. AGEs are antigenic and represent many of the important neoantigens found in cooked or stored foods.[13] They also interfere with the normal product of nitric oxide in cells.[14]
    Although there are several lysine and arginine residues in the serum albumin structure, very few of them can take part in the glycation reaction.[7][15] It is not clear exactly why only these residues are glycated in serum albumin, but it is suggested that non-covalent binding of glucose to serum albumin prior to the covalent bond formation might be the reason.[16]

    Link to this
  3. 3. AutismNewsBeat 2:12 pm 02/12/2011

    "There are 10,000 in the Chicago area alone who are unvaccinated."

    Has Mayer Eisenstein ever confirmed this? In 2008, Eisenstein was quoted as saying "Homefirst doctors have delivered more than 15,000 babies at home, and thousands of them have never been vaccinated." That sounds vague to me. Why not say "10,000", or "our database has the names of 10,000 children who have never been vaccinated." And if some of Eisenstein’s patients have been vaccinate, and vaccines cause autism, then why does Eisenstein say none of the kids he’s delivered has autism?

    Link to this
  4. 4. maurinemeleck 2:13 pm 02/12/2011

    Actually we did. By the time he was two and a half years old and tested-he suffered from oxidative stess,
    inflammatory bowel disease, encephalopathy, VERY high levels of mercury, arsenic, tin, cadminun, lead etc.
    plus EXTREMELY low levels of glutathione, zinc and numerous other vitamins, minerals, plus amino acids.
    He was developing perfectly normally(even on all doctor rrecorded records) until after 18 months of age. What you say is ridiculous since you know nothing about him.

    Link to this
  5. 5. AutismNewsBeat 2:14 pm 02/12/2011

    There are no reliable incidence data for autism. One more reason to suspect Ratajczak paper.

    Link to this
  6. 6. AutismNewsBeat 2:17 pm 02/12/2011

    The Ratajczak paper cites David Ayoub and Mark Geier. It also confuses incidence with prevalence.

    Link to this
  7. 7. crisoi 2:20 pm 02/12/2011

    From the abstract OF THE SAME PAPER YOU CITE: "Therefore, autism is the result of genetic defects and/or inflammation of the brain. The inflammation could be caused by a defective placenta, immature blood-brain barrier, the immune response of the mother to infection while pregnant, a premature birth, encephalitis in the child after birth, or a toxic environment."

    [This is more or less an abbreviation of the summary findings - I'm not posting them here.]

    Read More:

    True, she also mentions that encephalitis in child after birth MAY sometimes be caused by vaccines. But this seems to be supported very thinly by a single unreliable reference, cryptically given as "Child Health Safety. 2010. June 30," which is a rabid anti-vaccine blog. I am surprised it passed peer-review.

    But even so, this review article does not in any way make the claim you think it makes.

    Link to this
  8. 8. amdachel 3:46 pm 02/12/2011

    Seth Mnookin, like so many others writing about this controversy, pretends it’s just about the science. The public isn’t that naïve. A lot of people have their reputations riding on this debate. All of them are terrified of this question being asked: Who will be held responsible if it’s clearly shown that through complete oversight failure, a generation of children received unsafe vaccines with devastating results? I can’t imagine the repercussions. Health officials have tried to ensure that the question never comes up by producing endless population studies all showing no link and all tied to the drug industry. They’ve pretended that autism is a genetic disorder kids are born with. When healthy children suddenly and dramatically regress into autism following routine vaccinations, it’s called a coincidence. And no matter how bad the autism numbers get (now at one percent of children, almost two percent of boys), there isn’t really more autism. It’s just better diagnosing by doctors.

    Mnookin doesn’t talk about Wakefield’s book Callous Disregard,, where he explains in detail why each of the charges made against him are false. Mnookin also doesn’t talk about the disturbing things Wakefield wrote about in his book, like the fact that the British government knowingly licensed an unsafe vaccine. They failed to warn parents about possible life-threatening side effects from the MMR vaccine. They intentionally had only passive surveillance for adverse events. They secretly indemnified the vaccine maker. And they used false and misleading information to promote the vaccine.

    Corruption, collusion, and cover-up, three things I usually assign to the actions of our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are also true for the British government. Dr. Wakefield wrote, “Children were the experimental marketplace.”

    It doesn’t matter how many books come out debunking a link because there are shelves of other books by well-credentialed experts raising serious concerns about the ever-expanding vaccination schedule.

    My question for Mnookin and everyone else is, Why aren’t you out there asking for the one study that would settle this issue once and for all? One percent of U.S. children now have autism. If one percent of never-vaccinated kids also have autism, the proof would be there for all to see. With thousands of parents now too afraid to have their kids vaccinated, the study group is out there. Why has this study never been done? What are people afraid of?

    Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism

    Link to this
  9. 9. JohnDanStone 4:45 pm 02/12/2011

    Of course, one of the Americans who knows very well that vaccines can cause autism and has said so is the head of Merck’s vaccine division and former CDC boss, Julie Gerberding. It will be remembered following the Poling concession that Gerberding confessed to Sanjay Gupta (who conveniently seemed to have forgotten about it when interviewed Bill Gates recently):

    “Now, we all know that vaccines can occasionally cause fevers in kids. So if a child was immunized, got a fever, had other complications from the vaccines. And if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism."

    Rant all you like Mr Mnookin.

    Link to this
  10. 10. JohnDanStone 5:06 pm 02/12/2011

    Incidentally, for once I find some minimal concordance between myself and Brian Deer. The dean of the Royal Free medical school Ari Zuckerman was keen to give Wakefield a platform to endorse the vaccine programme, and indeed he did – single vaccines being at the time a freely available option to parents on the National Health Service. It was the UK Department of Health and the pharmaceutical companies that in a political manoeuvre decided to remove single vaccines from the UK programme six months later, thus putting Wakefield out on limb (though scarcely to blame). By comparison it was more than a decade before single vaccines were removed in the US.

    Link to this
  11. 11. lamorpa 5:18 pm 02/12/2011

    So when your pediatrician had Child Services come and investigate the child’s environment (which sounds like it certainly included exposure to some kind of paint chips or dust, which were being consumed), did they find single or multiple sources? It’s not as though vaccines contain, or could have any relation to the bulk of the toxins and conditions you describe. Why would you even post a comment in this vaccine-related discussion?

    Link to this
  12. 12. maurinemeleck 7:29 pm 02/12/2011

    Ah Ha gottcha-that’s where it shows you know nothing about vaccines, toxins and the immune system. It’s obvious that the majority of the children with autism have a genetic predisposition(onlyto being unable to excrete the many toxins that we get in our bodies-especially if they are overloaded with lots of toxic vaccines. So, although vaccines(we hope anyway) don’t contain lead or arsenic-food and water and other things do-the children cannot excrete those toxins too and they remain in their bodies. One possibility is that this subset of children have lower glutathione levels early on and without that (the most important antioxident in the body) their immune systems are subject to overload from their childhood vaccines. So I question why you even posted something that you don’t understand at all.

    Link to this
  13. 13. genevehicle 9:35 pm 02/12/2011

    Scientists have got to get better at getting the truth out. I guess its not enough to due the hard science, then publish your findings. Alas.
    To convince people your telling the truth, you have to run a better public relations campaign then those who’s ideology or bottom line will be negatively affected by your findings.
    We are doomed.

    Link to this
  14. 14. maurinemeleck 9:39 am 02/13/2011

    Actually you need hard science that’s not done by those with conflicts of interest. You will also need an end to the autism epidemic and a proper explanation for what is causing it and then you will need to pacify the hundreds of thousands of families with vaccine injured children.

    Link to this
  15. 15. lamorpa 10:02 am 02/13/2011

    "then you will need to pacify the hundreds of thousands of families with vaccine injured children" ?

    Do you mean the families with actual vaccine injured children or families who choose to believe, without evidence or actual causal factors, that their children were injured by vaccines? These are two vastly different things.

    Link to this
  16. 16. lamorpa 10:10 am 02/13/2011

    I actually do know quite a bit about ‘vaccines, toxins and the immune system’ I’m sure your investigations are some kind of help to your child. Good luck and I really hope your not going down the woo-woo path of ‘colonic detoxification’ and all that nonsense. It, of course, makes sense that different people would have different sensitivities and reactions to vaccines. It’s just a question of how broad the range, etc. is.

    Link to this
  17. 17. letxequalx 12:27 pm 02/13/2011

    There are a lot of emotional reasons why people persist in clinging to the vaccine/autism link myth. At some point they are going to have to just let go- that avenue has been fully explored and nothing of any real value has been discovered.

    Link to this
  18. 18. ironjustice 1:12 pm 02/13/2011

    Quote: people persist in clinging to the vaccine/autism link myth
    Answer: It has been hypothesised the REASON for a reaction to the vaccination in some people ‘may’ be because the person was PREdisposed to the vaccinations’ adverse effects.

    "Does mercury promote lipid peroxidation?: an in vitro study concerning mercury, copper, and iron in peroxidation of low-density lipoprotein."
    "We conclude here that, first, mercury and methylmercury do not promote direct lipid peroxidation, but that, second, a simultaneous exposure to high inorganic mercury, copper, and iron and low selenium concentrations
    can lead to a condition in which mercury promotes lipid peroxidations."

    "Increased excretion of a lipid peroxidation biomarker in autism."

    Link to this
  19. 19. BoRon 1:32 pm 02/13/2011

    "My question for Mnookin and everyone else is, Why aren’t you out there asking for the one study that would settle this issue once and for all?"

    Give me an example of one study that settles ANY issue. There are no authoritarian documents in science. There are scores of studies on everything and no referee who proclaims "and the winner is…" Where is the one study that shows that the earth orbits the sun?

    Link to this
  20. 20. NoseWhistle 2:42 pm 02/13/2011

    Where is the study that will collect 1000 unvaccinated individuals and study their rates of disease?

    Link to this
  21. 21. BoRon 3:31 pm 02/13/2011

    Perhaps this (really long) link is what you seek:–ucVv0M&hl=en&ei=Az1YTeTmFoW4tgfMzcTNDA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=17&ved=0CJsBEOgBMBA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    The second half of page 104 points to a big study.

    Link to this
  22. 22. JohnDanStone 6:30 pm 02/13/2011

    The message I afraid everybody is that it is not going to die. You think you’ve slammed lit on it, but it doesn’t work. Mr Mnookin can find all sorts of reasons for his beliefs but even Brian Deer turns up to correct him on facts. The truth is that there are too many bad experiences, too many discrepancies, and the myth of vaccine safety does not bear examination. Of course, an industry depends on it but the present desperation is because they are certaily losing. And, in fact, it is pathetic to see: for all their stranglehold on government and the mainstream media they are flailing around hopelessly.

    Link to this
  23. 23. Sullivan 11:04 pm 02/13/2011

    "Actually you need hard science that’s not done by those with conflicts of interest."

    So, any science performed by, or supported by, Generation Rescue, SafeMinds, Thoughtful House, Andrew Wakefield, and many others, is out.

    If we accept the above, very poor, logic that is.

    Link to this
  24. 24. ZebulonJoe 2:22 pm 02/14/2011

    Please, let’s just get back to the beginning. Wakefield’s presentation came from an EARLIER published study on a smaller number of children (Newly-revealed documents show that on December 20th, 1996, a meeting of The Inflammatory Bowel Disease Study Group based at the Royal Free Hospital Medical School featured a presentation by Professor Walker-Smith on seven of the children who would later become part of the group of patients Dr Wakefield wrote about in his 1998 The Lancet paper (which was later retracted by The Lancet).

    Link to this
  25. 25. Author Frank Martin DiMeglio 8:25 pm 02/14/2011

    This vaccines problem goes way beyond science (that is, it is way beyond identifying predictable, comprehensible, and/or controllable effects).

    The following “big picture” is essential to this entire discussion.

    The NUMEROUS vaccines are biologically active, and yet they are unnatural and foreign to the body. So when the body THEN reacts as if it is infected with disease (via immune responses/antibodies), it is made toxic/disordered/ill/damaged/infected to some extent.

    All of these NUMEROUS and altered/unnatural immune responses/vaccinations are compromising our immune function. The answer is common sense and simple, and there is no way around this.

    The vaccines (viruses and bacteria) are altered and unnatural; and the disease/infection process is fundamentally different as well (via injection). This is all very significant, in keeping with everything else that can be/has been said.

    The increasing numbers of vaccines and the rising rates of disorders involving mind/emotion/body are of very serious concern.

    Life is fragile, as it is delicately and precisely regulated and balanced.

    The numerous, biologically active, unnatural, and foreign vaccines are making us increasingly unconscious and reactive in various and unpredictable ways.

    Link to this
  26. 26. Dr. Strangelove 12:12 am 02/15/2011

    "One percent of U.S. children now have autism. If one percent of never-vaccinated kids also have autism, the proof would be there for all to see."

    So if one percent of U.S. population have colds and less than one percent of people in Indian reservations have colds, that’s proof that living in Indian reservations prevents colds.

    Statistics don’t lie, statisticians do.

    Link to this
  27. 27. Twyla2 2:46 am 02/15/2011

    I am so tired of hearing that science has proven there is no link between vaccines and autism. That is simply not true. In fact, there is so much science that has not been done. Our government is not studying the children who suffered vaccine injuries followed by regression into autism. And our government refuses to do a study comparing health outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated children. Yes, it would be unethical to do a prospective study as parents need to be able to choose whether and when their babies are vaccinated. But a retrospectives study would be quite feasible. Dr. Bernadine Healy (former director of the NIH) told CBS news that, "public health officials have intentionally avoided researching whether subsets of children are ‘susceptible’ to vaccine side effects – afraid the answer will scare the public…"
    and that she "was surprised to find that the government has not embarked upon some of the most basic research that could help answer the question of a link" between vaccines & autism.
    She also said that "she found credible published, peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the idea of an association" between vaccines & autism.

    There is more and more research showing an association between immune system issues and autism, such as published peer reviewed studies showing in people with autism:
    - Inflammation in the brain
    - Inflammatory cytokines in the spinal fluid
    - Autoantibodies to the myelin basic protein coating nerve cells
    - Imbalance between Th-1 and Th-2 cells
    - Inflammatory bowel disease
    - Oxidative stress
    - Family history of autoimmune disorders

    And, there is a long history of cases where vaccines caused encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and encephalopathy (brain injury or illness), although our government is not tracking which of these injuries resulted in autism (see CBS news links above). Encephalitis and encephalopathy are listed in the government’s HRSA vaccine injury table here:
    as well as being listed on many vaccine package inserts, such as here:

    Link to this
  28. 28. Twyla2 3:16 am 02/15/2011

    The vaccine court has ruled that vaccines can cause autism, seizures, encephalitis, and encephalopathy, for example:

    Hannah Poling

    Bailey Banks

    Harry Tembenis

    Jerry Tufo

    This special vaccine court is more likely to rule in claimants’ favor when autism is not mentioned, i.e. child has autism but files for seizures, encephalitis, ADEM, or encephalopathy:

    Link to this
  29. 29. Twyla2 3:30 am 02/15/2011

    The studies that supposedly show no autism/vaccine link have multiple problems. See:

    Amazing how the press has ignored this autism researcher’s transgressions:

    There is research supporting an autism/vaccine link:

    Link to this
  30. 30. Twyla2 4:20 am 02/15/2011

    Rodney Peete describes how his son was developing normally — sociable, bright, meeting milestones, until he received the MMR, hepatitis B, and polio vaccines at a "well baby" visit:
    "At home that night, R.J. had a terrible fever and started shaking violently, just short of something like a seizure… we rushed him to the emergency room late that night. We believe he went into some kind of toxic overload shock. After that, we didn’t hear the words ‘Mommy’ or ‘No’ for about four years."

    Karyn Seroussi describes her son’s vaccine reactions:
    "We’re in the Emergency Room. It’s three o’clock in the morning and Miles has been screaming for two hours. His limbs are tremoring. Are these seizures? They started before his fever went up. His temperature is 106 degrees. Could this be related to his eighteen-month DPT vaccination the previous morning? The doctor doesn’t know. The same thing happend three months ago, a few days after his MMR vaccination. Now his fever is breaking and he is lying limply in my arms. He is staring into my eyes with a surprised look. He smiles slightly. I have a sudden feeling of elation. "It’s me, it’s Mommy," I whisper. He stares for several minutes, as if memorizing my face. I relish his gaze. I’ll never forget this moment. It is the first time in three months he has let me look into those beautiful eyes. It will not happen again for a long, long time."
    - from Prologue (p. 19) to the book "Unraveling the Mystery of Autism"

    Link to this
  31. 31. Twyla2 4:32 am 02/15/2011

    RFK describes how many parents have told him similar stories:
    "I’ve gotten now hundreds and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of letters, and that’s not hyperbole, that’s not exaggeration, from women who had the exact same experience. They bring a perfectly normal two-year old, who’s exceeded all of their milestones, to the doctor to get… their pediatric flu shots, their MMR vaccines at the age of two. They get that shot, the child goes into seizure, develops a fever that night, and over the next three months loses her or his ability to speak, to interact with his brothers and sisters, engages in stereotypical behavior–head-banging screaming, biting — and lose all capacity for social interaction. And they’ve lost this child, and they watch it happen, and it’s happened thousands and thousands of times, and you hear that story once or twice, and you say, ‘well, maybe it’s an anomaly,’ but you hear it a hundred times, and you have to say, ‘we’ve got to start looking at this.’ And nobody–the CDC had said, ‘no, we’re not going to look at it, we’re going to cut off all funds to anybody that wants to look at it.’"
    Also see:

    Yes, these are "anecdotes". Yes, anecdotes are not in themselves scientific proof. But anecdotes are evidence which should be the basis for further study. It is totally UNscientific to simply dismiss thousands of similar stories because of vested interest, prejudice, or assumptions, without even studying these children.

    Yes, correlation by itself does not prove causation. But the more correlation there is, the less likely it is to be caused by chance.

    And, why do the same people who keep saying, "Don’t confuse correlation with causation" also say that epidemiological studies prove no link? Epi studies can only show correlation or lack thereof (and even then, only when there are not too many confounding variables).

    As Dr. Wakefield said, we need to study this. And BTW, Dr. Wakefield did not start the concerns about vaccines; he simply responded to them.

    These parents are rallying out of concern for their children. Dr. Wakefield does not have the powers of the Pied Piper of Hamelin.

    Link to this
  32. 32. Twyla2 5:01 am 02/15/2011

    David Kirby does not use "rhetorical tricks" and "sleights-of-hand". He does not "create an us-versus-them dynamic". He is a very clear, accurate, straightforward, thoughtful writer.

    He does understand that to engage in science is not to be ‘pro-’ or ‘anti-’ anything. That is one reason he objects to the term "anti-vaccine". He is not against vaccines.

    If someone said to you that they had complications from surgery, that would not mean that they are anti-surgery. Further investigation could determine whether or not the complication was related to the surgery. But it would be really dumb if instead of further investigation the response was simply, “But surgery is good! It saves lives! What would we do without surgery?” Well, yeah, but we have to understand the potential complications, for the sake of prevention and treatment. This is true of vaccines as well.

    Funny, Mr. Mnookin, the way I see you is somewhat similar to how you describe DK: an extremely persuasive messenger who disguises tendentious tracts as objective analyses.

    Link to this
  33. 33. psngray 10:54 am 02/15/2011

    If this article did not cast great doubt on Kirby’s own motivations, then it at least exposed the willingness of the "true believers" to deny any reasonable doubt. I’m a parent with an autistic child, one of three, and all this "noise" about vaccines just distracts us from finding out what’s really going on.

    The original study was thrown out and sad stories are getting us nowhere. We have no idea what’s going on so we might as well attribute autism to a trip to McDonalds as to a vaccination. Why are reasonable people throwing away their valuable resources on junk science rather than funding the studies they need?

    Link to this
  34. 34. Twyla2 11:42 am 02/15/2011

    psngray, have you read thousands of parental reports of children losing speech and eye contact following a trip to McDonalds? I have not read any accounts like that at all. Is there any scientific theory or research supporting a McDonalds-vaccine link? Is there a history of lawsuits against McDonalds for autism causation? Were there so many lawsuits that congress had to pass a National Hamburger Injury Act forming a special McDonald’s court funded by a special tax on hamburgers to fund treatment for those who suffer brain/body injuries from hamburgers? Is autism or encephalitis listed as a possible side effect of McDonald’s food?

    Vaccine-autism causation is not just something pulled out of thin air. As Dr. Bryan Jepson wrote, "I looked at the research, largely to prove to my wife that the theory was unfounded. The further I looked, the more interested I became. And before long, I realized that this theory of a vaccine-autism link wasn’t driven by the whims of angry activists or the wallets of vitamin manufacturers. Rather, it was based on real science with a strong foundation of biological plausibility, led by knowledgeable and motivated physicians, research scientists, and parents of autistic children, all of whom weren’t afraid to question dogma."
    - from p. 3-4 "Changing the Course of Autism – a Scientific Approach for Parents and Physicians" by Dr. Bryan Jepson

    Link to this
  35. 35. psngray 1:10 pm 02/15/2011

    Oh golly you read that in a real book? by a real doctor? and that was his real opinion, having no other experience that giving it a "really good look-see?" Nice tactics, by the way making me think I need to prove it’s McDonalds or something else when you have yet to prove your position. The medical and scientific community has found no basis for a causal link, with the exception of some people of questionable ethics or sense who have books to sell.
    If you spent your time, efforts and money on getting a definitive study together instead of crusading maybe we could get somewhere.
    I have "skin in this game," do you?

    Link to this
  36. 36. Sullivan 3:32 pm 02/15/2011

    "Our government is not studying the children who suffered vaccine injuries followed by regression into autism. "


    this simply is not true. The CHARGE study is one example. Sue Swedo has a study ongoing for neuroimmunologic investigations of autism, including regressive autism. This is only two of the projects ongoing, and doesn’t even count studies which have already published.

    "And our government refuses to do a study comparing health outcomes in vaccinated and unvaccinated children."

    Many (most?) of the groups promoting the vaccine-causation hypothesis claim that if we went back to the vaccine schedule from the early 1980s, we would reduce the autism prevalence to 1 in 10,000.

    Obviously these groups assume there is a dose-response factor in place, even in this hypothesized vaccine-causation idea.

    The number of vaccines and delaying vaccines did not have a major impact on neurological disorders. I expect a similar study will be performed on the recent study on thimerosal and autism (Price, et al.). This will answer the question for the vast majority of people.

    For a minority of people, no study that does not support the vaccine hypothesis will be accepted.

    Link to this
  37. 37. Sullivan 3:36 pm 02/15/2011

    "The vaccine court has ruled that vaccines can cause autism, seizures, encephalitis, and encephalopathy, for example:"


    You really should read Seth Mnookin’s book. For one thing, he has a great quote from Hannah Poling’s father that the concession did not say anything about causation.

    Link to this
  38. 38. Dr. Strangelove 8:13 pm 02/15/2011

    "I am so tired of hearing that science has proven there is no link between vaccines and autism. That is simply not true."

    Science has not proven there’s no link between vaccines and cancer, tuberculosis, asthma, flu, etc. Therefore, it is true that vaccines cause cancer, tuberculosis, asthma, flu and other diseases. How’s that for logic?

    Science cannot prove a no link if there’s no link. But science can prove a link if there’s a link.

    "Yes, anecdotes are not in themselves scientific proof. But anecdotes are evidence which should be the basis for further study."

    Yes, anecdotes are not scientific proof. No, anecdotes are not evidence, they are anecdotes. Otherwise, scientific proof is not based on evidence.

    "It is totally UNscientific to simply dismiss thousands of similar stories because of vested interest, prejudice, or assumptions, without even studying these children."

    Stories are dismissed not because of vested interest, prejudice or assumptions. They are dismissed because they are totally UNscientific being anecdotes. There are many scientific studies of vaccinated children. Did they develop autism?

    Link to this
  39. 39. Twyla2 2:28 am 02/16/2011

    Here’s another statement I disagree with in this article: "In the six years since Kirby published his book Evidence of Harm… he’s become one of the main reasons this ‘debate’ won’t ‘go away.’" You do have a point there — David Kirby is an outstanding journalist, one of the few who have taken on this issue. But the main reasons this debate won’t go away are because:
    - More and more babies/toddlers/children are being injured, and
    - Parents of these babies/toddlers/children are highly motivated and will never give up.

    Thousands of parents and professionals have formed groups such as these:



    The Autism Action Network

    National Autism Association

    Generation Rescue

    Autism Research Institute

    Autism One

    New Jersey Coalition for Vaccine Choice

    National Vaccine Information Center


    All of the above groups advocate for recognition of vaccine injury. They are not going away. And if the vaccine program continues at its current pace, there will be more and more new members joining these groups.

    Link to this
  40. 40. lamorpa 10:02 am 02/16/2011

    @Twyla2: Please don’t take up space posting so many comments. Once anyone read your opening statement, "I am so tired of hearing that science has proven there is no link between vaccines and autism," they knew to read no further.

    Link to this
  41. 41. palebluemote 3:56 pm 02/16/2011

    Gee, let’s support our case by referencing overtly biased, agenda-pushing sources. Might as well argue in favor for guns by referencing an article by the NRA. Or perhaps we can talk about how healthy McDonalds is by referencing PR statements made by the McDonalds corporation? Say, doesn’t BP use home-brewed "news" articles to pontificate on what an eco-friendly company they are?

    I think lobster is the best food on earth. Don’t believe me? Just check out That’s PROOF.

    Well look at that! I can do it too, Twyla.

    Link to this
  42. 42. Sullivan 9:07 pm 02/16/2011

    "Yes, anecdotes are not scientific proof. No, anecdotes are not evidence, they are anecdotes. Otherwise, scientific proof is not based on evidence."

    And anecdotes were listened to. Many studies and many millions of dollars in research funding went into answering questions raised by anecdotes about autism and vaccines. The studies came up showing no evidence for a connection.

    Link to this
  43. 43. ceejay9 3:15 pm 02/17/2011

    A very fearfilled emotive reaction to unvaccinated children. If vaccines work, there should be no risk to the ‘immunised’ children at all. Informed choice is a democratic right and I, for one have chosen to exercise it. I have very healthy children who have been treated with Homeopathy instead of toxic drugs.

    Link to this
  44. 44. Twyla2 12:07 pm 02/19/2011

    Here’s a quote from Congressman Dan Burton from a 2001 hearing:

    My grandson, Christian, was born healthy and developed normally. His story is not much different than that of the thousands of families we have heard from over the last year. He met his developmental milestones. He was talkative. He enjoyed being with people. He interacted socially.

    Then Christian received his routine immunizations as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and his life changed dramatically and very rapidly. We now know that through his shots, he may have been exposed to 41 times the level of mercury than is considered safe by Federal guidelines for a child his size. This was on top of other mercury exposure from earlier vaccinations.

    Within 10 days of receiving his vaccines, Christian was locked into the world of autism–within 10 days. Is it related to the MMR vaccine? Is it related to the mercury toxicity? Is it the environment, including food allergies? Or is autism purely genetic? Some would
    have us believe that a child’s regression into autism within a short time of vaccination is purely a coincidence. I ask those individuals to show me the science that proves this theory.

    On Monday, the "Measles-Mumps-Rubella Vaccine and Autism Report" was released by the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Immunization Safety Review. We have Dr. Marie McCormick, the Chair of this committee, here today to talk about the findings and recommendations of the report.

    I realize the headlines over the last 3 days have said that the committee found no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism. I would urge all of you to read the entire report and recognize that the committee found that there was insufficient evidence to conclusively prove or disprove a connection between the MMR vaccine and acquired autism. And yet, on television all across this country, every parent saw that there was no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism.

    Yet, that is not what the report said. I believe a disservice has been given to the American people about this. Parents need to know the risks involved with certain exposures their children have to face. And they need to have all the facts, not part of the facts.

    It should be noted that the committee notes in its conclusions that it could not exclude the possibility that MMR vaccine could contribute to Autism Spectrum Disorder.

    Just one of many descriptions of vaccine induced autism and inconclusive epidemiology.

    Link to this
  45. 45. Twyla2 12:11 pm 02/19/2011

    And yes, MMR does not have mercury — MMR is a separate factor from the preservative thimerosal (which is 49.6% mercury). And yes, thimerosal has been removed from (or decreased in) most vaccines, but not all. And there are other ingredients of concern in vaccines, such as aluminum.

    In the face of all these reports, our government’s only response is, "But diseases are dangerous. It’s dangerous not to vaccinate." That’s the best modern medicine can offer? No insight? No studying of these injured children to understand why this happens? It’s just take-it-or-leave it? All-or-none? If you don’t like it you’re a heretic and "anti-vaccine"?

    Link to this
  46. 46. Twyla2 12:17 pm 02/19/2011

    And in the face of all this, that is the AAP’s response as well. Yesterday Dr. Oz asked Dr. Ari Brown of the AAP what is her response to parents who are worried about a possible link between autism and vaccines, and she replied that she tells them that not vaccinating your baby is like not putting your baby in a car seat. That doesn’t even answer the question.

    What about when there are safety questions raised about car seats? Are those who recall defective car seats anti-car-seat? Are those who instruct us not to put babies in car seats in the front seat of the car where there is an air bag anti-car-seat? and anti-air-bag? No, with any product, especially invasive medical products, problems must be constantly monitored and addressed. Instead, the autism-vaccine link is simply being summarily dismissed as coincidence.

    Link to this
  47. 47. Dr. Strangelove 10:55 pm 02/20/2011

    "Some would have us believe that a childs regression into autism within a short time of vaccination is purely a coincidence. I ask those individuals to show me the science that proves this theory."

    In science, you cannot prove a negative claim. You can only prove a positive claim. The positive claim is vaccines cause autism. You need to prove that. The burden of proof is on those making a positive claim. Without proof or solid evidence, the positive claim is invalid.

    If I claim to be the omnipotent god but I choose to use my infinite powers to keep my disguise, will you accept that without proof? No? Ah but you cannot disprove my claim. You cannot prove that I am not. Therefore, you are forced to accept that I am. Nonsense! you say. See?That’s why you cannot prove a negative claim.

    Link to this
  48. 48. rwstutler 5:11 pm 02/21/2011

    For profit frauds and con artists are a dime a dozen. Still it is sad to see them get press in something like the HuffPo. Facts are facts – F = Gm1m2/r2,
    co2 causes a greenhouse effect, and vaccines do not cause autism. One cannot debate facts, one can only ignore them or deny them.

    Link to this
  49. 49. rwstutler 5:15 pm 02/21/2011

    sbscienceny wrotes: "I believe that Dr Wakefield will be vindicated."

    Dr Wakefield has already been exposed as a fraud. Seems sbsciency wants to expose himself as well.

    Link to this
  50. 50. bucketofsquid 10:25 am 02/28/2011

    There was a study a while ago that showed a connection between exposure to various viruses during development and the incident of mental disorders such as Schizophrenia. The results of the study indicated that the source of exposure was irrelevant. If vaccines expose babies and toddlers to the viruses then perhaps they may indeed contribute to the mental disorder spectrum labelled Autism.

    One must wonder which is worse though, an 80% mortality rate in children with 50% dead before their first birthday or the small chance you may end up with an Autistic child. Personally I chose to risk Autism and had both of my children immunized. They did not develop Autism and they did not die. I win! The anti-vaccine crowd need to do some basic research on what the death rate was like before vaccines.

    There are many different disorders that are labelled Autism and it is easily possible that each one has a different cause. A lot of information has come to light about herbicides and pesticides used in agriculture causing a variety of issues. Air in cities isn’t exactly clean. Electronics emit toxins in normal use. Before we go crazy and endanger most of our children, how about we look at all of the possible factors and do meaningful research on all of them?

    Link to this
  51. 51. drcub1908 5:58 pm 11/15/2011

    injecting something foreign directly into the bloodstream vs. ingesting is actually a very different process. By injecting a dead virus with lots of garbage in it, I promise is more deadly then you may think.
    I have 3 UN-vaccinated kids, they also go to the chiropractor. They are the healthiest 3 kids. They will not be autistic or have asthma. I will not pollute their bodies. Vaccines INJURE, KILL and MAIM..Period

    Link to this

Add a Comment
You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.

More from Scientific American

Email this Article