10 Mar 2008

"Court Links MMR to Autism"? Well, no actually...

Oh dear. The latest source of nonsense and misinformation has reached this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

I noticed this headline yesterday, from a UK local newspaper (Newcastle's Sunday Sun), "Court links MMR to autism."

This little piece of fiction is attributed to Phil Doherty;

FAMILIES who blamed the MMR jab for their children’s autism may be vindicated by a landmark court case. The Government has denied a link between the immunisation and autism, but a US court ruled that a girl did develop the condition after a series of jabs.

No it did not. The child in question, Hannah Poling, was found to have an extremely rare, genetically acquired metabolic disorder affecting her mitochondria.

The case was heard by the USA Division of Vaccine Injury Compensation, which requires a much lower standard of evidence than scientific or medical procedures would require. This is so as to make it easier for plaintiffs seeking damages in those rare cases when it is more likely than not that there is a negative reaction to a vaccine, no matter what the specific injury is. As Hannah's father himself says;

Proving the link legally is quite different than proving it scientifically, Poling says. "When you are talking about the courtroom vs. science, the burden of proof is different," Poling tells WebMD.

"We showed there was a plausible mechanism, we showed that an injury occurred shortly after her vaccination. Her growth curve went flat for months."

To prove something scientifically, rather than legally, he points out, only a 5% possibility (or one in 20 chance) that something happens by chance is allowable.

The case documents have been published on an anti-vaccination propaganda site.

The court ruling states;
In sum, DVIC has concluded that the facts of this case meet the statutory criteria for demonstrating that the vaccinations CHILD received on July 19, 2000, significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder, which predisposed her to deficits in cellular energy metabolism, and manifested as a regressive encephalopathy with features of autism spectrum disorder.

These show that the court have agreed only that the vaccinations “significantly aggravated an underlying mitochondrial disorder” resulting in a brain disorder “with features of autism spectrum disorder.” That is not the same. Mr Phil Doherty, as stating she "did develop the condition [autism] after a series of jabs."

Moreover, the ruling mentions that she has "features of autism spectrum disorder." It is not confirmed anywhere that she has a diagnosis of autism, which requires that many different aspects of the diagnostic criteria, be met. Many people have "features" of autism but are not autistic.

To continue the Newcastle Sun article;

The vaccines reacted with a DNA defect in her body . . . a defect found in 38 per cent of those with autism.

Excuse me, but WTF?
Where on earth is he getting this figure from? This one, flawed sentence, is the only reference to Hannah's underlying mitochondrial disorder, in the whole dodgy article. I would exhort Mr Doherty to learn from the great university in his city, who have a helpful section on their website about mitochondrial disease. They might be able to help him with his statistics.

Ah well, lets take a look at the rest of this astonishing article;

The ruling was made last November but “sealed” — or not made public — until a compensation figure was agreed. However, details of it have been leaked to the Sunday Sun, and we understand there are a further 4900 similar cases to be heard in the US.

Oops! Who'd a thought, it's another mistake. This documents has not been leaked to just this newspaper as if they got some great scoop. The document has been published in several places online.

There are not 4900 similar cases to be heard. This family had been part of the Autism Omnibus hearings, a large cohort of people who feel that their children's autism had been caused in one of 3 ways; by the MMR vaccine, by the thiomersal that used to be in some vaccines, or via a combination of these two. However, the Pollings removed themselves from the Omnibus. They are not in any way, representative of the rest of those claimants. They were unable to show that thiomersal caused autism in their child, so they settled for the more likely scenario, vaccinations may have aggravated the pre-existing mito disease leading to brain damage and some autism like features.

I'd like to continue examining the Sun article;

It’s thought the disorder in the girl was triggered by the existence of mercury, used to make the vaccines more efficient.

I almost pity him.
The MMR has never included the mercury containing compound thiomersal, so the headline's way wrong. Also, thiomersal was used as a preservative in the vaccines.

Mercury has now been removed from child vaccines in the UK but many parents whose child developed autism when it was in use will feel the case backs up their suspicions.

UK parents have had their day in court. £15 million of tax payer's money went on Legal Aid fees to lawyers and "expert" witnesses, in an effort to link autism with vaccination. It failed, and the children received nothing.
This effort was also entirely unrelated to mercury.

Paul Shattock, regular speaker at the DAN! conferences is quoted;

“No one has ever claimed vaccines caused all autism, which can have many different routes, but around seven per cent of parents say their child was developing normally until they were immunised. “There is now a link to vindicate their view and this has been proven in court.”

One wonders if Mr Shattock is aware of the child's mito diesease.

There's a bit of a history of Andrew Wakefield, and his MMR baloney, then there's this;

After the ruling, the US Government said it wasn’t the vaccines which caused her autism, but a DNA defect in those who were inoculated which was triggered by the jab. According to research, just 0.2 per cent of the general population have the defect, compared to at least 38pc of autism patients.

I can't actually understand this. What DNA in "those who were innoculated" is he talking about? And again, there's the strange and obviously wrong figure of a condition (the mito disease) affecting just 0.2% of the general population but somehow rising to 38% of autisic people?!
Actually, although Mr Doherty hasn't been open enough to source these numbers, I am aware that they come from David "autism is mercury poisoning, no it's environmental toxicity, no it's general toxins in vaccines, no it a misdiagnosis for mito disease, no it's [fill the gaps as time progresses and new theories emerge]" Kirby. The figures have been masterfully deconstructed by SL on the Left Brain/Right Brian blog here.

Mt Doherty then quotes a Jabs ("a support group for vaccine-damaged children"; no, it's a frighteningly off base anti-vaccination propaganda group) who was thinks it is "vital the Department of Health put in a screening programme for this defect before children are given jabs."

Just to refer people back to Newcastle University's Mitochondrial Disease site, where the process for diagnosing this disease is outlined, and involves analysis of samples of blood, urine, cerebrospinal fluid, (via a lumbar puncture) and muscle (via a muscle biopsy). The condition is rare, and can be very serious, even fatal. It is a whole lot more worrisome than autism, and more research is required to understand it and help the people affected.

Finally there is a short injection of sense in a quote from a Department of Health spokesperson;

MMR is the safest and most effective way of protecting children from measles, mumps and rubella. This issue relates to one child with an extremely rare metabolic genetic condition. In the US, rates of autism have continued to rise since mercury was removed from its vaccines. This case has no relevance therefore for vaccination in the UK.

Inaccurate and irresponsible reporting such as this, is frightening more parents into forgoing vaccinations for their children. Already in the UK, the number of measles cases has risen 30% and at least one child has died of this disease.

For more, and better explanations of the Poling vaccine injury case, see these posts; (the start of this list has been shamelessly nicked from Orac.)
  1. David Kirby and the government "concession that vaccines cause autism": The incredible shrinking causation claim
  2. The new strategy of the antivaccination movement: Autism is a "misdiagnosis" for mitochondrial disease
  3. Antivaccination propaganda about the Poling case: A Saturday morning link roundup
  4. Has the Government Conceded Vaccines Cause Autism? by Steve Novella
  5. Autism payout reignites vaccine controversy (New Scientist article)
  6. Vaccines, Autism and the Concession
  7. This Whole Mito Thing (My Final Vent...Hopefully!)
  8. Something is beginning to smell...
  9. Recent Vaccine-Autism Award Not the First by Arthur Allen
  10. It's Not Our Fault!!
  11. "Evidence of Mitochondrial Dysfunction In Autism
  12. Autism & Mitochondrial Disease
  13. Where's Her Mito Pin???
  14. Strange--Parents Don't Mention Mito!
  15. Chain of Events: The "Concession Case,"
  16. And It Begins...
  17. David Kirby Asks Now What?? I'll Tell You...
  18. Metaphors, Mitochondria, and the MMR
  19. The NYTimes misportrays the autism “debate”
  20. About This Autism Debate
  21. The Case of Hannah Poling
  22. What the Government Said and What It Didn't
  23. Autism, Mito, Vaccine Court, and the Polings
  24. Concessions, the post where a picture says it all.


Anonymous said...

Great analysis of the vaccine "controversy" situation.

Anonymous said...

Please, please PLEASE -- when you see articles like this printed, it is critical that (particularly the more mainstream or "trustworthy" the publication) people write the editor and complain. It is absolutely critical that we force journalists to have some sense, because otherwise people will believe what they read when they see a stinking pile such as this article.

Journalists are supposed to check their sources and research to make certain that their facts are correct. We need to hold them to that, and point out that pieces like this are violently skewed towards an anti-scientific agenda.

We must force the idiots who publish this kind of thing to publish a retraction, correction, or opposing view if we are ever to impact this cult religion vilifying the MMR.

Sharon McDaid said...

Thanks Alex, but you can see from the list of links, I've based my analysis on good writing.

Anon, you are quite right. It's fine to blog about this where few will ever read it. I was annoyed that there was no section for comments on the online section of that newspaper. But a printed letter would have a much bigger impact.

Club 166 said...

Thanks for highlighting this.

It was folly to ever hope that this nonsense would stay on this side of the pond. As always, we Yanks manage to export the worst aspects of American life.

I agree that letters to the editor are very important.


Sharon McDaid said...

I still love my American friends!

I have now summarised this post (and taken out the childishly sarcastic bits) and written to the editor. I wonder if it will be published?

jypsy said...

Thanx Sharon, I'll be writing...
Colin Patterson, the Editor can be reached at:

Anonymous said...

It does seem like the government's top priority is to confuse the issue and muddy the waters. OK, maybe we are off base on exactly what the problem is, but that does not mean vaccines are not related. My daughter's seizures started the day of the 4 month vaccines. At the 6 month cocktail, all hell broke loose and we had seizures like crazy. Maybe it's the sheer volume of vaccines given now, often at the same time. Maybe it is a combo of things like the vaccine + antibiotics surge. I don't know. I do think vaccines are part of the puzzle and the government is using the vaccines angle to confuse the issue and keep us from talking about the big picture.


Ed said...

Weather the judge in this case intended for the decision to give credability to other cases where parents blame vaccines or weather this anti-vaccine message as relating to autism was just descibed as the focus of this trial by irresponsible journalist, if numbers like 38% of kids where negatively affected by vaccines are being published....and that number is false and misleading....and people hearing that reduces the number of vaccines given that creates a REAL health crisis.... then the false information must be challenged.

Thanks Sharon, for another great post.

kristina said...

"WTF" was my response too-----talk about a headline written to catch the eye, and not the truth.

S.L. said...

I third the "WTF!" LOL! Seriously, it is sad when journalists, writing in newspapers, are not taken to task. Spreading false statements like these is not only aggravating to those who know the facts, but is also very dangerous.

Btw...thanks for linking me. Although, me thinks me be obsessed with this topic! Yikes! ;)

Sharon McDaid said...

I'm glad you'll be writing jypsy. The more letters they get, the more seriously they'll take it.

Anon 2. OK, the government, in your opinion, want nothing more than to muddy the waters?
You claim that your daughter had a bad reaction to her vaccines. Then why don't you take a case to the DVIC?
You think that "vaccines are part of the puzzle." Are you referring to autism here? If so, there is absolutely no evidence backing such an assertion.

As for the website you linked to, it is distinctly odd. It's got the Defeat Autism Now stuff, and links to TACA and words and pictures from Google Uni's alumnus Jenny McCartney, but it's also linking to loads of Autism Hub blogs, written by people who clearly do not agree with the message of the vast majority of the site's content! Are you hoping to confuse people, or are you trying for a bit of balance, you know, truth and lies, good and evil?

Too true Ed. Every time these lies get propagated, it puts many people in real danger. It also keeps the disgusting myth of autistic people as "poisoned" going.

Kristina, I think they must have known the headline would make a splash. That's it a lie, seems unimportant to them.

SL I hope many more people will complain to that newspaper.
I'm glad you're taking the time to write about this topic because you're making a lot of sense and educating many people about these issues. Unfortunately, the anti-vaccine lobby have decided to spin this story as much as they can so others have to try to limit the damage they hope to inflict.

Anonymous said...

Sharon - great post. Thanks.

Have written to the editor to complain about the linked piece as
anonymous suggested.

Sharon McDaid said...

Great JDC, I hope they get loads of mail about this.