Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Autism Prevalence: One in 88?

There are times when it makes sense to draft a blog post to discuss a particular subject matter or news report so that I can offer my own take on the information, add some context, and of course a dose of commentary.  In respect to the latest CDC report that shows one in 88 American children are autistic, my previous blog post accomplished this.

Then there are other times when it makes more sense to simply link to another site which has already done their own legwork. This is one of those times, and this article written by Dr. Gorski over at Science Based Medicine does an amazing job of spelling out some of the major logical errors that originate from the anti-vaccination camp.  It is worth a read.

Via Science Based Medicine: Autism prevalence: Now estimated to be one in 88, and the antivaccine movement goes wild

Of course I do have a few points of my own to add as well. First, if the prevalence of autism is actually growing (as opposed to the rate of diagnoses growing), then it tends to fly in the face of the theory that vaccines cause autism, because antivaxxers keep telling us that more and more people are skipping vaccines in favor of more "natural methods".  Granted some of these people are dying as a result, and of course we know the claims of more and more people skipping vaccines simply arent' true, but the point is antivaxxers can't have it both ways. If they honestly believe that vaccines cause autism, and if they also believe that more and more parents are seeking vaccine exemptions for their children, then by all accounts the rate of autism diagnoses should actually be decreasing.  It is not.

So what is it? Are we to honestly believe the rate of autism is actually going up not due to better diagnoses but simply because the disease is that much more prevalent? If that is the case, then clearly antivaxxers must admit that their anti-vaccination campaign isn't working... because how else can you explain the rate of autism going up unless you believe a larger percentage of children are receiving vaccinations?

The truth is, the wild claims about the number of parents seeking vaccine exemptions simply aren't true, and although the rates of vaccination are not decreasing, they aren't actually increasing at a huge rate either. For the most part, vaccination rates haven't shifted more than 5% in recent years, thus any attempt to blame a increase in the prevalence of autism upon vaccines and/or vaccination rates seems to stumble out of the gate.

It is interesting when you examine the actual usage of vaccines during 2008 and align this with the reported rate of autism from the CDC report. The same can be done for the cohort groups from 2002 and 2006 as well. If vaccine use had actually decreased, one might think antivaxxers would have taken the time to align this usage to an decrease in autism diagnoses. However, since vaccine use has remained relatively stable (in some cases actually increasing slightly) during this time period, yet the rate of autism diagnoses has grown at a much faster rate, how do they explain the discrepancy?

Perhaps a better question is, why haven't these anti-vaccination groups performed this analysis prior to jumping on the "vaccines must cause autism" bandwagon? The data simply does not support the hypothesis... and they know it.

As you can see this becomes rather difficult to explain if you are an antivaxxer. Things become even more difficult to explain when you realize the time period this report covers occurs during the time period that thimerosal was being removed from all childhood vaccinations. This should indicate that the removal of thimerosal had no impact upon the rate of autism, and if one were to confuse correlation and causation (as so many antivaxxers commonly do), one could even go so far as to make the argument that the removal of thimerosal actually increases the rate of autism.  After all, we know the amount of thimerosal being injected into children has dropped significantly since the year 2000 almost to the point of being eliminated entirely (aside from some flu vaccines), and we also know the rate of autism is growing rapidly.  So if we were to simply base our opinion upon correlation, it stands to reason that the removal of thimerosal is directly responsible for the increase in autism.

By all means let me know when one of these antivaxxer groups comes out with that little hypothesis.

Another interesting tidbit at play here is the fact that this data comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have spent more than five minutes researching the subjects of autism and/or vaccines you will know that antivaxxers are very skeptical of the CDC. They have accused the CDC of manipulating data, they have accused them of falsifying studies, they have accused them of being in the back pocket of "big pharma" and they have a severe distrust of anything that is published or released by the CDC.... until now apparently.

This is yet another example of how antivaxxers attempt to cherry pick data that flies in the face of their own wild and unsubstantiated theories. If you don't trust an organization, why is it ok to cite their data and treat it as fact when they have stated previously that CDC funded studies are worthless? Is that not the definition of hypocrisy?

It seems we are to the point that any new information about autism diagnosis is immediately pounced upon by the antivaxxer community, and unfortunately they appear to do so even before they understand the very data they are using as ammunition. Perhaps instead of jumping to conclusions using faulty assumptions and opinion the anti-vaccination crowd would be well served to take a step back, fully understand the data they are discussing, and perhaps begin to realize this is a much bigger issue, and a must more important issue, than they are trying to make it out to be.

It sort of makes you wonder... what might it take before an antivaxxer admits they might be wrong? What might it take before Andy Moulden, Sherri Tenpenny, Dr. Mercola, Andrew Wakefield, Jenny McCarthy, Lowell Hubbs, or any of the other antivaxxers I have profiled on this website actually take a step back and admit that their fears about vaccinations may very well have been unsubstantiated all along?

Sadly - I doubt we will ever know, because if there is one thing we have shown time and time again it is that antivaxxers never admit when they are wrong... they simply practice goalpost relocation as they move on to the next unsupportable and unscientific theory.  Unfortunately for them, the curtain is slowly being pulled back to expose them for what they really are, and once you look beyond the celebrity pitchmen and magical treatments, you soon realize there is no evidence or science to support their viewpoints.  This is why, for all intents and purposes, the antivaxxer viewpoint is essentially unsustainable, because at the end of the day the evidence and science speaks for itself.

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