20 Mar 2008

More on the Autism-MMR trash story

I wrote recently about a terrible newspaper article entitled "Court links MMR to autism."

Last Sunday's edition contained my letter of complaint about that article;
LAST Sunday, Phil Doherty wrote an article titled Court Links MMR to Autism.
The USA Vaccine Injury Compensation hearing did not link autism to the MMR. The child under discussion, Hannah Poling, has an extremely rare, genetically acquired, metabolic disorder affecting her mitochondria.
The court, which requires a much lower burden of proof than scientific or medical procedures, has 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 as stating she “did develop the condition — autism — after a series of jabs”.
Mr Doherty wrote: “The vaccines reacted with a DNA defect in her body . . . a defect found in 38 per cent of those with autism.”
It is pure fiction to suggest that 38pc of autistic people have the same rare DNA defect as Ms Poling. The MMR jab has never included the mercury containing compound thiomersal, which was used as a preservative in some vaccines.
Inaccurate and irresponsible reporting such as this is frightening more parents into forgoing vaccinations for their children

The newspaper addressed some of the points my letter raised, but it began with a straw-man argument;
Sunday Sun says . . . are you saying that, even if a vaccine was described as aggravating an underlying condition, it has in no way contributed to it?
I did not say this.
If your article had accurately said that "a vaccine was described as aggravating an underlying condition," there would have been no reason to complain. But instead, the headline of your 9th March article was, "Court Links MMR to Autism" and further, Mr Doherty wrote that she "did develop the condition — autism — after a series of jabs".
Secondly, research into mitochondrial DNA disorders in the population, which says 38pc of autism patients have it, has been peer tested and published in respected medical journals.
This is not true.
Dr Poling, Hannah's father, has co-authored a paper called "Developmental Regression and Mitochondrial Dysfunction in a Child With Autism."

I presume this is the peer reviewed published paper you refer to? It is a case study on Poling's daughter. It is also a retrospective study of the levels of an enzyme, creatine kinese, in a group of autistic people, 38% of whom were shown to have elevated levels. The paper concluded that, "further metabolic evaluation is indicated in autistic patients."

The paper does not say that 38% of the autistic population have "mitochondrial DNA disorders." Raised creatine kinese is not diagnostic of the rare condition of mitochondrial disease. It can be associated with mitochondrial dysfunction, but also can be linked to such conditions as inflammation of the heart muscle, stroke, muscular dystrophies and lung tissue death.
(Thanks to S.L. at Stop. Think. Autism. whose work here I've nicked for the above paragraph.)
We agree that the majority of child vaccinations are safe. However, even the Department of Health admits that a number of children will be damaged by inoculations. We never said Mercury was in the MMR vaccine in the UK . . . we said it was found in other vaccines in the UK.
The Polings were claiming that the mercury in thiomersal in Hannah's vaccines was what aggravated her condition. Yet your headline, and the line I quoted earlier, both attempted to implicate the MMR.

Since our story, we have received an emailed letter from Hannah's father, neurologist Dr Paul Poling, saying that his daughter does indeed have autism.
She may well have autism, but the US government's court documents state that she had "features of autism." Even if she is autistic, it doesn't follow that she was made autistic by the vaccines. Remember, this child has a rare, genetically acquired mitochondrial disease. Her father is on record saying that her mother has the same condition, though presumably to a much lesser degree.

Yesterday I received an email from Phil Doherty, author of the original, flawed article. His letter is said to be his personal opinion and not to represent the views of his employer:
I have been asked to respond on behalf of the Sunday Sun.
I would like to point out there are 4900 cases before the vaccine courts in the US from families claiming vaccines damaged their children. Whether these are the result of underlying Mitochondrial dysfunction or thiomasol or something else would be up to the law court and medical experts to establish.

Wrong again. As I have already informed these people, the Polings were for a while among the cohort of 4900 people in the Autism Omnibus hearings, who claim vaccines caused their child's autism. But the Polings dropped out of that group and pursued an individual claim, that vaccines aggravated a pre-existing condition. In fact, as Kathleen Seidel has shown, the Vaccine Injury Court have paid out before to children with a pre-existing physical condition who have been diagnosed with autism or related conditions after they sustained documented, verifiable vaccine injuries. It is only fair that compensation is paid in those very rare but sad times when a vaccine does result in one of the known, negative side effects.

The Autism Omnibus is trying to prove something different, that vaccines directly led to autism. In spite of the thousands of cases available to choose from, those selected to be heard as test cases last year, presumably the most convincing among the cohort, had very poor arguments easily refuted by scientists called by the US government's representatives. It is very unlikely they will win their cases.
According to Hannah Poling's doctors, her parents (one of which is a doctor) and other experts she has autism.
To say some one has features of autism is not-surprising disingenuous double-talk by the US government. As you will be well aware autism is not one disease as such but a set of symptoms that together are classed as being on the spectrum. As an expert I have spoken to this week put it - if you have features of autism you have autism whether those features are mild or severe.

The doctor who diagnosed her, not the US government, said she had 'features of autism.'
Perhaps she does have autism. I'd certainly consider her as autistic, politically. I'd love to see her and her parents tackle the ignorance and prejudice about autism, and help promote the rights of autistic people, starting by tacking the myth of vaccine poisoning.

The expert you spoke to isn't much of an expert. You wouldn't want to name him/her would you?
Actually, many people have features of autism but are not autistic. These issues are explored further here.
We never said in our article that mercury was present in the MMR jabs in the UK.
However - it is in two of the vaccines Hannah received and was used widely in US vaccines - including the earlier versions of the MMR.

In the US, anti-vaccers blame mercury for causing autism, and in the UK they blame the MMR.
Your headline and article were written in such a way as to lead readers to assume that the court had conceded that the MMR caused autism when it did no such thing. Since the MMR is the big bogeyman in this part of the world, thanks to some shoddy work by Wakefield, and years of credulous reporting by the media, you knew that emphasising the fact that she's had the MMR would catch people's attention here.

It might have helped you sell a few more newspapers, but at what cost to children's health?
Also, the MMR has never contained mercury, not even the earlier versions.
As for your assertions that there are no peer tested research on the issue of Mit dysfunction in autism sufferers. I suggest you refer to a study by Daniel Rosignol and Jeffrey Bradstreet. In their study you will find that some studies have found up to 43 per cent of autistic sufferers have mit dysfunctions and 35 per cent were found to have classical mit disease.

Thanks for the suggestion. I appreciate it when Senior Reporters with such an obvious aptitude for science offer advice on these matters.

I have read the article (pdf link). It has been expertly analysed by S.L.

The authors confuse mitochondrial dysfunction with mitochondrial disease, make unproven assumptions about (shudder) 'toxins' causation. They are DAN! practitioners whose preferred option for dealing with autism is the whacko DAN! protocol, an abusive, unregulated , experimental 'therapy' inflicted on many autistic children. It includes Chelation, yes really! That practise killed an autistic child, but these guys still promote it. They promote their own favourite, Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT). Reasonable people realise that this is crazy, outlandish and cruel.

Is that really who you go to for information about science?

You end your argument saying that just because Hannah has autism doesn't mean that she got it from the inoculations - why did the US Government pay out compensation then? We both know that unfortunately some children do get damaged by inoculations.

Seriously? You need to ask?
The court ruling stated;

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. Therefore, respondent recommends that compensation be awarded to petitioners in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 300aa-11(c)(1)(C)(ii).

The court paid compensation for the reasons given above, but not because she "got it [autism] from the inoculations."

We both agree that vaccinations are the best way of protecting the vast majority of children from the harm that these terrible disease can do to them.
However, we are a newspaper with a public duty to bring such issues to the forefront for debate.
This may not play very well with medics or the Government - but I'd like to point out that these same institutions have told people that medicines and other practices were safe when they blatantly were not (Thalidomide, vCJD etc - medical science moves all the time and new knowledge shifts our understanding).

You have a duty to report accurately on these issues, and not to misinform, either from ignorance or a deliberate mission to sensationalise and sell more papers.

And seriously, you're using the thalidomide story as an example of nasty scientists? This is one of the alternative medicine brigade's favourite lines! Surely you can do better than that. Drug testing practices have changed since the effects of thalidomide in pregnancy were discovered. Finding out what happens when drugs are used and publishing the results, that's what doctors and scientists do.

At this point in time we feel that entering into any further correspondence on this issue would not be to anyone's best interests.
Yours sincerely,

Phil Doherty
Senior Reporter
Sunday Sun

How honoured I am to have been written to by a Senior Reporter.

More what is probably the fullest and best explanation of this case and the attempted rebranding of autism, from 'mercury poisoning' to 'general toxins in vaccines and the atmosphere' to 'mito dysfunction' see this by the ever-excellent Orac.


Anonymous said...

"...autism is not one disease..."

No, it's not. Autism is not a disease at all!

Sharon McDaid said...

Oh yeah, I missed that one!

Patrick said...

Glad to hear you have taken the senior reporter to task about their exageration and outright twisting of the claims.

Though he claims that further correspondence on the issue won't do any good, I think that the next time they open up a crooked headline they will need another serving of clarity.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

"At this point in time we feel that entering into any further correspondence on this issue would not be to anyone's best interests."
So now our media will print inaccurate stories, defend themselves by trotting out a series of canards and then run away instead of debating the issues. Great.

Sharon McDaid said...

Hi Patrick and JDC. It was his comment at the end, that they saw no benefit in further correspondence, as it "would not be to anyone's best interests" that made me decide to blog this. What he meant, I think, is that he doesn't want to have to defend his shoddy reporting further.

Anonymous said...

This may not play very well with medics or the Government - but I'd like to point out that these same institutions have told people that medicines and other practices were safe when they blatantly were not (Thalidomide, vCJD etc

Yes - of course. For years, medics have been telling us that vCJD is safe, like a mild cold...

Sharon McDaid said...

Anon, you must have been wearing your tinfoil hat and missed it.
Curses! One slipped the net!

Anonymous said...

Good show! Thank you for speaking out against this kind of ignorant propaganda masquerading as "reportage." Morons. They will never learn. But it is critical that we all keep fighting to keep others from being mislead by the the nutty, stupid stuff that one continually finds in the media.

Thank you, thank you for striking a blow for reason!

Anonymous said...

A lot of people are trying to exploit the Hannah Poling story in an attempt to link it to either the MMR vaccine or thimerosal. It appears, though, that what triggered the "metabolic crisis" in this case was a fever probably caused by a series of vaccinations, but it could've been a fever due to anything else. Attempting to revive dead hypotheses by exploiting this rare and unrelated medical event strikes me as particularly dishonest.

S.L. said...

Great work, Sharon! I applaud you (again!) for speaking out, and your fabulous job of correcting their irresponsible "journalism" (can such reporting even be called journalism?). It's shameful that they prefer to run away from a serious debate, and won't back up the false statements they make. Hats off to you!

David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. said...

"... have told people that medicines and other practices were safe when they blatantly were not (Thalidomide, vCJD etc - medical science moves all the time and new knowledge shifts our understanding)."

Hmmm.... dunno about the others, but I do know that the Thalidomide issue did not come about because of the scientists being 'nasty' (as Doherty seems to be proposing), but because it was not realised that the racemic mixture of the drug given to the rats in the lab was likely to be tolerated by them but not by humans. Most (if not all) drugs have two molecular forms (chiralities; handed-ness, as it were) and a racemic mixture is one in which both chiralities (or stereo-isomers) of the drug molecule are present. These chiralities are named because of the direction of light defracted through the crystals (L for laevo or 'left', and D for dextro or 'right'), and I think it was the laevo variant that was the villain of the peace in the case of Thalidomide, because this was the stereo-isomer that rats could tolerate but which humans could not. Thalidomide's stereo-isomers cannot be given as a non-racemic solution, since they can convert in vivo into their respective chirally opposite isomers.

As far as I am aware, this was not a case of a pharmaceutical company acting in malice. Rather, it was a case of them making a promise that was not possible to keep since it had not been proven on humans that Thalidomide was safe in its racemic form.

Just my two-penn'orth.