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I saw an interesting medical news story this morning that said a small study was done that seemed to show that autistic children benefited from hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) compared to children who were exposed to slightly pressurised room air (hyperbaric oxygen chambers have higher levels of oxygen and are more pressurised).

I haven’t yet had a chance to read the study, so I am not sure how well done it is, but go and have a look to see for yourself.  The study is being published in the peer reviewed journal BMC Pediatrics, here is a link to the abstract and preliminary article.

The thing I found interesting about the particular report of this study in Medpage Today, is that there is some commentary by Paul Offit expressing scepticism about this study because the parties who conducted the studies (Daniel Rossignol, Lanier Rossignol, Scott Smith, Cindy Schneider, Sally Logerquist, Anju Usman, Jim Neubrander, Eric Madren, Gregg Hintz, Barry Grushkin and Elizabeth Mumper) are in some cases DAN! doctors who make their living treating autistic children, and who use HBOT to treat them, at least in some instances.

“I’d like to see [the study] reproduced in an academic medical center that doesn’t have the financial incentives,” said Dr. Offit.

That sounds a bit funny coming from Paul Offit, who spends his time studying, developing, handsomely profiting from and publicly promoting vaccines.  If the physicians in question have prima facie questionable intention and/or honesty because of their capacity to profit from their work, then one can’t help but wonder how Offit can avoid the very same criticism that he levies at them.

I happen to think it’s impossible to be utterly unbiased; every researcher comes to a study with an idea or a viewpoint that they expect to validate.  The methodologies of science aim to minimise these various biases, and of course where conflicts of interests exist, they should be completely disclosed.  But I think it’s quite something to disapprove of a study because the physicians profit from procedures they study and recommend, when one has profited from the development of a vaccine one has studied and recommends.  Offit routinely rebuffs criticism that he has a conflict of interest.  I wonder how he thinks these physicians who studied HBOT are differently situated.

In fact, in 2000 the Committee on Government Reform in the U.S. House of Representatives criticised practices of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (which makes recommendations on childhood vaccines) with regards to their poor management of conflicts of interest, specifically citing Paul Offit (as well as others) who voted for the recommendation of the Wyeth RotaShield (rotavirus) vaccine on three occasions, when he was also developing a rotavirus (RotaTeq) vaccine with Merck, because of their worry about this as a conflict of interest.  They said “A recommendation for Wyeth-Lederle’s vaccine would help pave the way for future recommendations for the products of Merck and SmithKline-Beecham.”

That sounds like at least as worrisome a conflict as he is now concerned about with these DAN! doctors.

I’ve been noticing that there’s a recent new(ish) complaint against people that are concerned about safety of vaccines.  I’ve seen it in some blog posts, and seen it almost constantly in the online comment sections following various news articles and blog articles about vaccines.

The complaint is that people who question vaccines have been changing the nature of their argument over time.  According to this complaint it started with people being concerned about mercury and thimerosal in vaccines.  Over time, as thimerosal was removed (or reduced, as some critics would say) from vaccines, and as a corresponding decrease in autism was not apparent, the “anti-vaccine” people changed their argument. Now they claim that aluminum, formaldehyde and polysorbate 80, etc. are the basis for concern about vaccines.

Apparently some people find this to be some fatal flaw, and from this it apparently follows that any criticism of vaccines is trumped automatically.  But I don’t see that this point has (or should have) any weight.

First of all, points in scientific discussion and debates change over time.  Not only do they change, they ought to change in response to advances in knowledge and to changes in thinking.  Anyone who stays wedded to the first idea they had is either truly perfect, or is a little too invested in being correct.

Consider the medical quest to treat ulcers.  Physicians and researchers considered excess stomach acid production to be the cause of ulcers for decades.  They even tried crazy things like freezing the lining of the stomach to try and reduce acid production until gastric linings started sloughed off and causing lots of bleeding.  I’m glad no one got in their way and said that they couldn’t change their theory halfway through, or was upset because they modified their position in light of further experience.

Furthermore, at least with regards to asthma, allergies and autism, it is reasonable to have a heightened and continuing sense of concern about vaccines, since they are direct attempts to alter the immune system.  Lots of children with autism seem to have immunological problems, and asthma and allergies are both dysfunctions of the immune system.  I’m not remotely suggesting there is evidence of anything causal because of this, but I do think it means it is well worth thinking about and looking at vaccines carefully, since we’re manipulating the immune system in ways that are not well understood, and we’ve got a lot of children appearing with immune problems.

Secondly, the increases in neurological problems, asthma/allergies, ADD and ADHD, bipolar disorder and autistic spectrum disorders in children ARE happening concomitantly with the increases in the number of vaccines that children get.  This is obviously another concern NOT causative on its face, but why does that then make it somehow crazy to want to examine vaccines more closely, as well as their constituent parts?

And finally, if the concerns about vaccines, and their components are so ridiculous and ill-founded, then why aren’t the easy rebuttals just trotted out instead of crying not fair, they changed the game?  For myself, I’d prefer that to all these pointless charges of fallacious argument, and I’m sure there are lots of others who are listening for that as well.

David Kirby, the famous journalist who had leaked the details of the Hannah Poling case in the media in the US, spoke in the United Kingdom last night, at Regent Hall, Oxford Street, London.

I turned up a bit early: 6:10 for a 6:30 pm start, thinking that I wanted to make sure that I got a seat, expecting the room would be quite full, but I was wrong.

The talk began slightly late at about 6:45 pm, and by that time there were about fifty people there, at most.  I was amazed that in a country where there are higher rates of autism than in most of the US that so few people bothered to turn up to hear what this man had to say.

Kirby gave an excellent talk.

I wasn’t sure what to expect since I had seen his work ridiculed on the some of the pro-vaccinationist websites, although I had never read his book or his work at The Huffington Post.  I suppose to be completely fair, I should point out that they don’t call themselves pro-vaccinationists, they tend to call themselves skeptics, or “science-based” or “evidence-based”, implying of course that people who are skeptical about vaccines and who look at evidence don’t exist, or that it is some sort of oxymoron.  It reminds me a bit of being at university where a scholar would refer to her theory as the ‘rich, complex model’ and the theory of someone who disagreed with her as the ‘impoverished, superficial model’.

When Kirby began his talk, he made it clear that he’s not anti-vaccine, nor is he a crusader and that above all, he is a journalist who leaves the science to the scientists.  He pointed out that when he goes home at night, he forgets all about autism; he has no stake in this game and no children.  Along with this topic, he is also working on a project concerning factory-farming of animals, and is writing a book, and none of it has anything to do with autism.

He further pointed out that he doesn’t care whether it is the vaccines that are causing autism or not.  He says that he began researching this area to figure out what was happening that was causing these huge rises in autism cases, and whether it is vaccines or something else doesn’t matter to him, because he is simply working to try and uncover the cause, hoping once discovered the autism epidemic will be able to be stopped.

Kirby began by considering facts and studies that supported the idea that vaccines and autism were not related, and then he turned to those that did suggest a relationship.  He discussed the major studies that are generally considered to be evidence that vaccines are safe, and pointed out all the areas in which these epidemiological studies had methodological problems that directly called the results of the study into question – in many cases by the authors of the studies themselves.  I had already read all the studies he discussed, so I didn’t hear a lot that I didn’t already know, but it was very interesting to have all the information from these studies presented back-to-back so that one could see that as a body of evidence it wasn’t terribly convincing.

But the most amazing part of this talk was that there was no one from the press there.

Well, there was one woman, who said she was a journalist, and that she tried to get someone to commission her to attend the event and write about it, but no one was willing, so she came out of her own interest.  She  pointed out that a notification about the talk had been disseminated among the usual channels in the journalistic community, and that she was certain that the lack of press had nothing to do with people not being aware of the talk.

Meanwhile Hannah Poling is big news in the states and people are now realising that many more children seem to have the markers of mitochondrial dysfunction than the US government originally claimed.   In spite of initial comments by the government health offices that Hannah had an extremely rare inherited condition (in fact Kirby said that the test case intended to replace the Hannah Poling case turned out to have all the same markers and condition as Hannah did, although I haven’t yet confirmed this myself) that the settlement did not mean that the government believed that vaccines cause autism.

But in the midst of this big news that lots of parents are following very closely online, things in the press here are strangely, almost bizarrely silent on this matter.  David Kirby even mentioned that he had a BBC interview scheduled which was canceled, and The Daily Mail commissioned him to write a piece on this subject, which he did, which they then decided not to print.

The Daily Mail did however choose to publish this poorly researched article by Barney Calman about biomedical interventions for autism.  Calman is a journalist who seems to have unfortunately joined forces with Michael Fitzpatrick, a GP who repeatedly and zealously denies that vaccines do any harm or that they have any link to autism.  Fitzpatrick has a son with autism (a teenager who is institutionalised), which he takes special care to mention whenever he speaks or writes, as if this somehow makes his claims weightier.  In fact, Fitzpatrick was at the Kirby talk yesterday, and after Kirby presented his material and then asked for questions, Fitzpatrick hurried not to make any substantive rebuttal of anything Kirby presented, but instead to ask how it could be the case that vaccines contributed to autism when there weren’t any GPs, paediatricians or pediatric gastroenterologists who believed it.

So it would seem that the press in the UK is only willing to publish pieces that are pro-vaccine, and against biomedical treatment for autism.  It doesn’t seem to matter if those articles are even remotely factually correct, or if the primary proponents make sophomoric claims from authority that something must be true because a bunch of doctors think it’s true.

Surely if work like that is worthy of any journalistic effort, then Hannah Poling deserves her own newspaper – and yet she gets nothing in this country.  For myself, I find the silence of the press completely deafening, and I am happy to see people around the country taking notice.

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