Another month, another paper flogging the zombie meme of MMR-Autism. This time in a superficially decent journal, albeit one where the subject is likely to be outside the specialist knowledge of peer reviewers (public health specialists are not normally going to be geneticists).
Impact of environmental factors on the prevalence of autistic disorder after 1979, Journal of Public health and Epidemiology, 2014; 6: 271-86
The first question is: who wrote the paper? All the authors list their affiliation as “Sound Choice Pharmaceutical Institute“, a religious fundamentalist group with an agenda against use of foetal cell lines, because abortion. You can probably stop there, actually. That really does tell you everything you need to know about this “study”: it’s an exercise in hunting for a predestined conclusion. Such exercises rarely fail.
The explosion in autism has been caused by the introduction of human fetal cell lines in the manufacture of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccines, a major new study has concluded.
“Major”? By what definition? How does it compare with all the other reviews of the purported correlation between MMR and autism, covering over 20,000,000 individuals, and finding no correlation whatsoever?
Oh, wait: this is WDDTY. Major means “we like the result”. Like the “major” study proving that we live after death (that wasn’t and didn’t).
Before 1987, when the vaccines were produced with animal cell lines, autism cases were relatively low. Today, it’s been estimated that 1 in 50 children has autism.
No, autism cases were not low, autism diagnoses were. In fact the biggest driver of increasing autism diagnosis rates is probably that a far greater proportion of cases are diagnosed. The diagnostic criteria have also changed.
Stem cell researcher Theresa Deisher and others say that the correlation between the sudden explosion in autism cases and the introduction of the new MMR vaccines is too strong to ignore—although, as the old maxim goes, correlation doesn’t prove causation.
Stem cell researcher? Hmmm. This is someone who does write research on stem cells, but she is also listed as the driving force behind Sound Choice, so it is very likely that what she is actually doing is closer to pathological science, where ideology drives the results and confirmation bias is king.
But there’s another question here. The SEC filings of Sound Choice indicate a non-trivial sum of money, but I can find no information about where the money comes from. Is it really all small private donations? It seems unlikely.
Why is this relevant? Well, we’ve seen before that groups producing “science” to support fundamentalist Christian and other conservative agendas, often turn out to be funded by wealthy activists. Remember the claim that abortion increases breast cancer risk? There were bills on the floor of several State houses seeking to mandate that this “information” be forcibly presented to women seeking termination, and it took some time for these to die even after the purported link was refuted.
According to the published paper, “The author(s) have not declared any conflict of interests” though it was supported by the Murdock Charitable Trust, a body that has funded pro-life and libertarian groups, provided funding to the Discovery Institute and so on – in other words, a religious conservative foundation. There has even been an editorial in Nature discussing the lead author’s role in a lawsuit aimed at forcing the US Government to stop funding stem cell research.
In what way is a history as plaintiff in a faith-motivated lawsuit related to stem cell research, and funding from a religious conservative foundation, not a conflict of interest?
How many red flags do you need, exactly?
The ‘change point’—when the numbers of autism cases rose sharply—happened in the UK in 1987, just when the new MMR vaccine, using human fetal cells, was introduced. A similar correlation was seen around the same time in Denmark, while the autism change point in the US was 1980 to 1981 after the introduction of the new MeruvaxII and MMRII vaccines in 1979. Both vaccines used human fetal cells for the first time.
How convenient for those who, like the authors, have an ideological opposition to human foetal cell lines.
There are a few inconvenient facts omitted from WDDTY’s coverage, then.
- The research was conducted by a body that cites opposition to use of foetal-derived cell lines as a primary purpose.
- Research by groups not committed to finding adverse effects from foetal cell lines, find no association, causal or otherwise, between MMR and autism.
- Withdrawal of MMR in Japan following the fraudulent work by Wakefield had no effect on autism diagnosis rates.
- Diagnostic criteria have changed since 1989.
- No plausible mechanism is referenced by which this purported effect might work. DNA does not recombine in this way. It does not enter the cell nucleus.
- We already have good evidence that autism is usually genetic, and there is emerging evidence that it can be traced to foetal development (unsurprisingly, if it is a genetically caused mutation in the brain). There is no evidence whatsoever linking these genetic markers to vaccinations.
Even if you want to believe the result, ask yourself this: if a new study showed that eating whale meat causes autism, and all the work was done by Greenpeace, would you believe it?
As usual the “viciously, viciously anti-vaccine” editors at WDDTY have seized on a result they like, ignored massive red flags for conflict of interest, and portrayed it as validating their anti-vaccine agenda even though it conflicts with many of the previous studies they claim support them (e.g. Wakefield’s “enterocolitis”and thiomersal, both of which turds have been polished to shining brilliance in the pages of WDDTY).
Once again, WDDTY prove that in anything related to vaccines, they simply cannot be trusted.