Apr 082011
 

Given that April is Autism Awareness Month, it seemed appropriate to briefly discuss the early history of the autism-vaccine hypothesis. Though this alleged link is often stated as having begun with Andrew Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet paper, Trine Tsouderos, a science journalist at the Chicago Tribune, reminded the audience at a recent panel discussion on vaccines in New York City, it really began in 1982 with a television documentary by Lea Thompson called DPT: Vaccine Roulette.

The film, which earned Thompson an Emmy Award, caused hysteria by suggesting the DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) vaccine was dangerous and propelled Thompson into the spotlight as the leading critic of vaccines. DPT: Vaccine Roulette gave birth to many of the same poor arguments, logical fallacies, and distorted facts vaccine critics still employ today, as was evident at the recent Vaccine Epidemic book launch event that was covered on this site last month. According to Tsouderos, Thompson even inflated the credentials of the experts she cited and included individuals with far fringe views such as AIDS denialists. It certainly was not the collection of experts one would be expected to turn to if they were legitimately seeking expertise on the topic.

And of course, the film featured an abundance of anecdotes in lieu of scientific data to support its thesis that the DPT vaccine causes brain damage. Take this anecdote where the film clearly commits the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy:

POLLY GAUGERT, AGE 7, REACTION: FEVER, UNCONTROLLED SEIZURES, BRAIN DAMAGE. “I said that maybe she should not have had this shot because it seems to me that she was not quite herself,” recalled Polly’s mother. “And [the doctor] checked her all over and he said, ‘She looks okay to me,’ and then he gave her the shot. And the next morning when I was feeding her she went into a grand mal seizure…I didn’t know what was happening. I thought she was dying in my arms.”

Here, Polly’s condition are attributed to the vaccine simply because the symptoms allegedly first appeared the day following the vaccine with no other evidence supporting that assertion.

This film, along with the national media attention it garnered, inevitably led to a decrease in vaccination rates. Not only that but it drove an increase in frivolous lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers because parents were primed to suspect vaccines in particular for whatever symptoms happened to emerge. One such parent was Barbara Loe Fisher, who after watching Thompson’s film, became convinced that the DPT vaccine caused her child’s neurological condition, which she now identifies as autism. Since then, she’s devoted her life to fighting a crusade against vaccines, which she now does under the banner of an organization known as the National Vaccine Information Center. She also published a book, A Shot in the Dark, where she repeats Thompson’s accusations against the pertussis vaccine.

The frivolous lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers that followed DPT: Vaccine Roulette and Fisher’s activism in turn drove the legislation to protect those manufacturers from going bankrupt, an action that would itself further public suspicious of conspiracy and eventually pave the way for Andrew Wakefield’s revival of the vaccine-autism hypothesis.

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  17 Responses to “April is Autism Awareness Month”

  1. I assume the heavy duty science you are referring to is that of the Danish study–I’m so impressed….

  2. Mission Statement of the NVIC
    The National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC) is dedicated to the prevention of vaccine injuries and deaths through public education and to defending the informed consent ethic in medicine.
    As an independent clearinghouse for information on diseases and vaccines, NVIC does not advocate for or against the use of vaccines. We support the availability of all preventive health care options, including vaccines, and the right of consumers to make educated, voluntary health care choices.

    You are simply a liar and denialist in the same vein as Brian Deer, Harriet Hall, Novella, Gorski, Offit & others… paid for their devotion to protecting drug industry profits.

    A review of Pubmed stuides will show vaccines causing damge to animals. A quick look at The Vaccine injury Table will show known damage vaccines cause to a small % of susceptible individuals. That % increased as vaccines and their for-profit-toxins increased and manufacturers used cost cutting to increase profits.

    That vaccine makers essentially self-regulate and improperly influence FDA & CDC to increase the # of vaccines on our mandatory schedule and that autism has risen dramatically as vax makers were protected from being sued by ANYONE for damage their products were causing and the number of injections tripled… all this is evidence or collusion and evidence that vaccines need proper independent clinical study, as Dr Bernadine Healy has called for, to ensure vaccines are not causing autism.

    You maliciously and knowingly stand in the way of finding the truth, making you as guilty as the drug companies directly profiting while damging a significant portion of our population… most of them children.

    Michael Polidori

    • As an independent clearinghouse for information on diseases and vaccines, NVIC does not advocate for or against the use of vaccines.

      Interesting. I clicked on the NVIC’s site on pertussis, and see these words: “Other Serious Reported Adverse Events:…., encephalopathy, headache, hypotonia, ear pain, apnea, cough, angiodema, pruritis, rash, fatigue and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).”

      Then I click on the link that information apparently came from above, the link labeled “About INFANRIX Vaccine in Brief.” It is an FDA page about the vaccine. That list of adverse events is listed after this paragraph:

      In addition to reports in clinical trials, worldwide voluntary reports of adverse events received for INFANRIX since market introduction are listed below. This list includes serious events and events which have a plausible causal connection to INFANRIX. These adverse events were reported voluntarily from a population of uncertain size; therefore, it is not always possible to reliably estimate their frequency or establish a causal relationship to vaccination.

      Why was this omitted? It makes it seem that the vaccine is more dangerous than what the data show. It is along the lines of your claim that vaccines are “mandatory.” Which also omits the fact that there are personal exemptions allowed in all but two states, and even in those states there are both homeschooling and private schools (it is not a coincidence that a school that closed due to pertussis is private).

      The DTaP has been used for over a decade, so there should be fewer references to the dangers of the DTP vaccine. Also, it would be more honest to actually refer to the proper vaccine on the line that says: “Pediatrics – August 2005 study on effectiveness of DPT vaccine.” The link goes to a paper titled “Pertussis Vaccine Effectiveness Among Children 6 to 59 Months of Age in the United States, 1998–2001″, and is about about 3 DTaP and 2 DTP vaccines, not the non-existent “DPT” vaccine.

      That is not the only reference that is poorly formatted, one is just a title of a book. If you wish to be considered a top notch organization, you should at least use a standard reference format. Also it would be more professional to use the proper name of the whole cell diphtheria/tetanus/pertussis vaccine.

      Also several pertinent papers have been ignored, which reeks of cherry picking. Why were the following not included:

      Pediatr Infect Dis J. 2006 Sep;25(9):768-73.
      Encephalopathy after whole-cell pertussis or measles vaccination: lack of evidence for a causal association in a retrospective case-control study.
      Ray P, Hayward J, Michelson D, Lewis E, Schwalbe J, Black S, Shinefield H, Marcy M, Huff K, Ward J, Mullooly J, Chen R, Davis R; Vaccine Safety Datalink Group.

      Vaccine. 2007 Jun 21;25(26):4875-9. Epub 2007 Mar 16.
      Do immunisations reduce the risk for SIDS? A meta-analysis.
      Vennemann MM, Höffgen M, Bajanowski T, Hense HW, Mitchell EA.

      Expert Rev Vaccines. 2005 Apr;4(2):173-84.
      Acellular pertussis vaccines in Japan: past, present and future.
      Watanabe M, Nagai M.

      Pediatr Int. 2004 Dec;46(6):650-5.
      Safety and efficacy of acellular pertussis vaccine in Japan, evaluated by 23 years of its use for routine immunization.
      Kuno-Sakai H, Kimura M.

      JAMA. 1994 Jan 5;271(1):37-41.
      Risk of serious acute neurological illness after immunization with diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine. A population-based case-control study.
      Gale JL, Thapa PB, Wassilak SG, Bobo JK, Mendelman PM, Foy HM.

      Vaccine. 1993 Nov;11(14):1371-9.
      Acute encephalopathy and chronic neurological damage after pertussis vaccine.
      Cowan LD, Griffin MR, Howson CP, Katz M, Johnston RB Jr, Shaywitz BA, Fineberg HV.

      J Pediatr. 1990 Jun;116(6):854-61.
      Pertussis vaccine and injury to the brain.
      Golden GS.

    • “You are simply a liar and denialist in the same vein as Brian Deer, Harriet Hall, Novella, Gorski, Offit & others… paid for their devotion to protecting drug industry profits.”
      And by “& others,” you of course mean every single reputable health organization on planet Earth, yes? Why don’t you put your money where you’re mouth is. I bet you every dollar you own that you can’t prove your libelous accusation that I’ve been paid to protect drug industry interests. As such a big fan of the truth, I’m sure you’re jumping for joy at this proposition, because surely you’d never make a false criminal accusation you have no hope of ever substantiating, right? I think I hear Joseph McCarthy calling; he wants his shameless tactics back.

  3. [...] traces the current distrust of vaccines to “DPT: Vaccine Roulette,” a one-hour special that aired on a Washington, DC, broadcast station on April 19, 1982. The [...]

  4. Michael, regarding the “anecdotal evidence” difficulty. That argument keeps surfacing from the vaccine supporters, I think mostly because it’s a last ditch effort. I’m not saying that all anecdotal evidence is truth – we humans can easily be mistaken. I understand your point but try thinking about it this way. If I gave you a concoction of herbs one day, and for the next three days you were doubled up in bed with a pounding headache and making multiple bathroom runs, would you say it was the herbs? Or would you say that’s anecdotal evidence, and be willing to get more herbs from me? What if I was an expert herbalist and told you the herbs had nothing to do with your symptoms? You see how it’s different if it’s turned around? All of a sudden anecdotal evidence is becomes very logical, especially when you are the one hurting.

    • You say “vaccine supporters” like this is some fringe movement or just one side of a legitimate political controversy; what you call “vaccine supporters” is every reputable health organization and relevant medical specialist on planet Earth. So when everyone who knows what they’re talking about is saying the same thing, you might want to hear them out instead of dismissing it as just some silly debate tactic. And contrary to the answer you seem to expect me to go with in your analogy, I’d still choose your latter answer, especially if everyone who knows what they’re talking about (which incidentally wouldn’t be herbalists but toxicologists or chemists–you know, real experts), would be in a better position to properly identify the cause of my symptoms and because, as you yourself claim to accept, I know just how incredibly and profoundly flawed human perception is. Anecdotal evidence that accompanies data and plausible associations can be valuable but anecdotal evidence alone is scientifically worthless, just as worthless as it’s repeatedly been shown to be in countless murder cases where eyewitnesses very confidently fingered the wrong people, the Salem witch trials and the Satanic Panic of the 1980s, countless superstitions where people made precisely the same error of confusing correlation with causation, the psychology research of Solomon Asch concerning perception and conformity, and the case of the infamous 1939 Martian invasion of Grovers Mill, New Jersey among other mass hallucinations.

      We already know that people can fool themselves to make all sorts of ridiculous associations through this logical fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc, and you yourself acknowledge this. I see nothing unique about the claims of vaccine critics or in your analogy. One of the strengths of science is that it requires claims be falsifiable and then tests those claims under controlled conditions that remove the observer’s bias and then demands the findings are repeatable under equally or better controlled conditions.

  5. Michael Rosch says:
    April 4, 2012 at 12:37 AM
    Anecdotal evidence that accompanies data and plausible associations can be valuable but anecdotal evidence alone is scientifically worthless, just as worthless as it’s repeatedly been shown to be in countless murder cases…..”

    You might also say that thousands of cases of SIDS following the administration of a shot is NOT proof of a connection, but you would you say that deaths from a disease before vaccines and lesser deaths from that disease after vaccines ARE proof of a connection.

    Which is it? Either a correlation between two events DOES indicate causality and IS “proof,” or a correlation between two events DOES NOT indicate causality and IS NOT “proof.” You can’t have it both ways.

    By the way, there are millions of cases of cancer, hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, autoimmune diseases, and numerous other “new” diseases today that DID NOT exist prior to mass vaccines. By your reasoning we can assume that these are caused by the shots. (Which many researchers now believe and have substantiating evidence to confirm.

    For example, check out the April 29, 1995 issue of Lancet. The measles vaccine was found to be linked to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.) In other words, the medical establishment’s so-called miracle shots are actually damaging the immune systems of healthy human beings and creating new diseases.

    Are you are too pompous to investigate the evidence that could help you to formulate unbiased and rational perspectives?

    I hope not.

    • You might also say that thousands of cases of SIDS following the administration of a shot is NOT proof of a connection,

      Citation please? Recent research show that vaccination prevents SIDS:
      Vaccine. 2007 Jun 21;25(26):4875-9. Epub 2007 Mar 16.
      Do immunisations reduce the risk for SIDS? A meta-analysis.

      And more recently the same researchers wrote:Vaccine. 2012 Mar 16;30(13):2349-56. Epub 2012 Jan 28.
      Reanalyses of case-control studies examining the temporal association between sudden infant death syndrome and vaccination.

      Where they say “There is no increased or reduced risk of sudden infant death during the period after the vaccination.”

      And don’t bring up Japan:
      Expert Rev Vaccines. 2005 Apr;4(2):173-84.
      Acellular pertussis vaccines in Japan: past, present and future.

      Ah, yes, I found that 1995 paper:
      Lancet. 1995 Apr 29;345(8957):1071-4.
      Is measles vaccination a risk factor for inflammatory bowel disease?

      Well, well… look at the authors:
      Thompson NP, Montgomery SM, Pounder RE, Wakefield AJ.

      With more recent evidence of fraudulent research by Dr. Wakefield, it would not be prudent to think his previous work was not also wrong.

      By the way, there are millions of cases of cancer, hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, autoimmune diseases, and numerous other “new” diseases today that DID NOT exist prior to mass vaccines.

      Well the reason for cancer is easy: It is a disease of older age. The more people who get to live longer, means you get more diseases of age. That also goes for “autoimmune” diseases, where diabetes is no longer a death sentence (and it did exist before, it is just that before insulin became available in the first half of the 20th century people who had it just died).

  6. [...] April 19, 1934.- Evangeline Adams began a thrice weekly astrology radio show on April 23, 1930. - DPT: Vaccine Roulette created a vaccine safety scare after it aired April 19, 1982. The 9/11 conspiracy film Loose Change [...]

  7. Michael Rosch: re the link you supplied with the studies purported to disprove a vaccine-autism link, first of all you can’t prove a negative, but also, you are ignoring the fact that studies can be manipulated to produce whatever result you want, or you simply bury the studies with results you don’t like. But, I really just want to say that, at this point you don’t even need science to show the link. It’s simply observable. If we inspect your arm and agree that it’s not broken. If I then hit it with a hammer, and we inspect it again, and then we agree that it’s broken, how convincing will it be for me to pull out studies showing that hammers are safe and effective, and that a link between hammers and broken bones has not been conclusively proven? This is exactly what you’re doing with vaccines and it’s insulting to our intelligence. To quote Jim Carey, “How stupid do you think we are?”

  8. By the way, before you dismiss me as an uneducated person who doesn’t understand science… I’m an honors graduate in Computer Science from an ivy league university, and as a computer programmer, finding logical flaws is what I do all day. I’ve looked as the so-called science on vaccine safety and it’s highly flawed.

    • So how does computer science equate to biology, virology, epidemiology and immunology? How many classes on statistics and probability did you take? Did you learn how to do a medical study?

      Neurology is very complex, and much more complicated than a bone being hit with a hammer. Babies are effected by many processes before they are born. Take in point the disabilities that occur because there is an extra chromosome in the mix (trisomy 18, trisomy 21, Fragile X, etc), or if the mother has an illness (congenital rubella syndrome is a known cause of autism, along with stillbirth, deafness, blindness, etc), and various levels of nutrition (too little is bad, but too much of Vitamin A causes birth defects). And on and on.

      Biochemistry is more complicated than decision trees. Large epidemiological studies found that smoking was associated with lung cancer shortly after World War II. But smoking is not the only cause of lung cancer (some genetics, and then there is radon). There have been several large epidemiological studies covering hundreds of thousands of children, but the statistics show little if any correlation with autism.

      It is more complicated than hitting an arm with a hammer. In my former life (before having a kid with neonatal seizures and some other genetic health issues) I was a structural engineer. I can tell you that hitting an arm with a hammer may or may not break the bone. It depends on the force, size of arm, where it hit and other factors. Sometimes even hitting several arms with the same force may break some, but not others. This is why there are tests that are done over and over again. And yet, sometimes in over a million bits of a product and outlier will fail for no apparent reason.

      Some reading suggestions:

      Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort Through the Noise Around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies by Sherry Seethaler

      The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow

      Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

      A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers by V. S. Ramachandran

      An Anthropologist on Mars by Oliver Sacks

  9. […] à NBC a diffusé un documentaire d’une heure intitulé « DPT : Vaccine Roulette » (détails). Ce documentaire a propulsé la carrière de la journaliste Lea Thompson et lui a valu un prix […]

  10. […] à NBC a diffusé un documentaire d’une heure intitulé « DPT : Vaccine Roulette » (détails). Ce documentaire a propulsé la carrière de la journaliste Lea Thompson et lui a valu un prix […]

  11. […] à NBC a diffusé un documentaire d’une heure intitulé « DPT : Vaccine Roulette » (détails). Ce documentaire a propulsé la carrière de la journaliste Lea Thompson et lui a valu un prix […]

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