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'Bringing science back into America's sphere' hits a nerve

August 24, 2009 | 11:23 am


In Saturday's Los Angeles Times, my article appeared, 'Bringing science back into America's sphere.' The piece is a Q&A with author Chris Mooney about his book "Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future," on how science has become less important to many Americans and the threats he and coauthor Sheril Kirshenbaum feel this poses to society.

We've received many letters and phone calls in response to this article and the issues he discussed: religion, Pluto no longer being considered a planet, vaccines, the Internet and how we go forward.

The health aspect of all this is the vaccines-cause-autism issue: Mooney discusses this at some length. He says there are many well-educated people who believe that vaccines caused autism in their children, despite scientific evidence to the contrary.

We've created this post as an open forum for your comments.

What is your opinion on the vaccines-cause-autism issue? Do you think America is less scientific-minded than it once was? 

We welcome your feedback in the comments below.

-- Lori Kozlowski

Photo credit: Tim Sloan / Getty Images

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Comments (135)

Americans a fed up with holier-than-thou infallible acting scientists that tout their "theories" as fact.
We are sick and tired of the same old stale studies done by research shills for the scientific cartel.
Most scientist today only think about themselves, how to make money and hopefully become famous. {You can't blame them, they are only human.}

Bible thumping ignorant Americans understand the depravity and fallibility of man.
That egotistic human nature and survival instincts can trump goodness, empathy, and truth.

The vaccine issue is a prime example.
Greedy pharmaceutical executives putting profits over people.
Vaccine scientist that use shoddy methods and poorly designed studies, who bury any negative results.
Public health officials that sell out to corporate pressures and interests.

Only a small portion of scientist admit that in the grand scheme of things, we really don't know much.
Some of these brave scientists have sacrificed their careers and are treated as outcasts for trying to "think outside the box".
These are the "real scientists" that are trying to tackle the difficult subjects and pushing the envelope of science and understanding.

White&Nerdy says "It is a simply fact that there is US data comparing 100% unvaccinated kids with vaccinated--vaccination had no effect on the risk of autism. " W&N, that is not true. Give us your source.

Your post contains no science; you just cast aspersions -- like many other vaccine defenders.

I find it ironic that the scientists who are repeating that "no scientific evidence exists to show a vaccine/autism causal link" are falling terribly short on "science."

The vaccine package inserts clearly state that carcinogenic and mutagenic effects have not been evaluated. Along with the potential to impair fertility.

Considering these facts, how can anyone base a "scientific" opinion regarding vaccine "safety?"

The truth is that the pharmacutical companies have stacked the deck against patients. Anyone truthfully observing the world of vaccines and their potential for adverse reactions can see this.

Some people here are saying that the "perfect" parents are looking for something to "blame." This may be true of a small minority (yourselves included,) but the majority of parents are only reporting the facts of what happened to their children in order to prevent it from happening to other children. It's all about warning other parents, not blame.

It has nothing to do with the "woe is me," I got jipped out of my "perfect life" because my child has autism, nonsense that folks are suggesting. We all are fully aware that life is not "perfect" and it can change in an instant, many parents of ASD kids have faced lots of challenges in their lives before the vaccine injuires of their kids, and they will face plenty more after as well.

Why then, suddenly it it AUTISM that renders these parents "looking for something to blame?" Simply beyond absurd to suggest this. For if these parents don't speak up and speak out, who will?
Not the CDC, FDA, IOM, or NIH. Not the doctors, not Big Pharma, not the MEDIA!

Parents should be provided a copy of the individual vaccine package inserts prior to the administration of each vaccine. They deserve to have "informed consent" regarding vaccines. Not a sheet of paper listing a few things their baby may experience after the vaccine. Every vaccine has serious health risks that should be explained to every parent.

Not everyone can eat eggs or peanuts. Some people have allergies and the number of these folks has recently been increasing. Why does the medical community continue to refuse to acknowledge that vaccines are the same as any other drug, medication or food?

First do no harm....

Mike Stanton

Where did I deny the data in the Wing and Gillberg studies? I only suggested that it would be unwise and misleading to extrapolate as they did, or assume that incidence was similar at different times or places, as they do. This is unscientific in the extreme.

Hi Twyla,

Although no doubt unintentional, your postings here are a perfect reminder as to why the "vaccine skeptics" have been marginalized as a joke.

Here is the first thing you posted to me: "W&N, that is not true. Give us your source."

Wow, you claim to know the truth about a study before reading the study.

It must be so much easier for you when you simply act unconstrained by those pesky little details generally referred to as facts.

Anyway, here is a link to a study on 110,000 US kids:

The relevant part starts on page 34.

Please be very clear on why this link is being posted: it explains in simply, basic English words that they compared kids that got zero vaccines with kids that got one or more vaccines.

The relevant results are on page 44. There was no difference in autism risk for vaccinated kids compared to 100% unvaccinated. There wasn't even a trend towards more autism with more doses of vaccines.

Well no wonder the folks that claim vaccines cause autism don't want to admit this data exists.

But it gets so very, very much better.....

You claim in your 25Aug 11:18 pm posting that there is no data comparing Unvax with Vax.

And in the very same posting you link us to putchildrenfirst site. And on this site that you linked us to is data and statistical analysis comparing 100% unvaxed kids with vaxed.

You have linked us to the very data that you claim doesn't exist.

Trying getting the basic facts correct, then we go through the well documented junk science your side has been pedaling.

Here is a study saying that "At concentrations as low as 20 parts per billion, thimerosal initiates inflammatory responses, and at concentrations of 200 parts per billion causes death of dendritic cells. Affected dendritic cells can quickly become “rogue,” producing misinformation that could activate aberrant and harmful immune responses."


Toxicology Study Links Thimerosal to Immune Dysfunction in Mice
Collaborating cell biologists, toxicologists, pathologists and molecular bioscientists at UC Davis published a study in March that links immune system dysfunction in mice with thimerosal—a cheap and effective mercury-based preservative. Potential effects on embryonic neuron development led to the removal of thimerosal from many pediatric vaccines, but it is still used in influenza, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines, blood products and many over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.

The study shows how communication between calcium channels in mouse
dendritic cells is dramatically garbled when exposed to thimerosal, reducing the immune system’s ability to respond to external factors.

“Dendritic cells play pivotal roles in overcoming viral and bacterial invaders by coordinating the immune system’s overall combat response,” says senior author of the study Isaac Pessah, toxicologist with the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Children’s Center for Environmental Health and Disease Prevention. One dendritic cell can activate as many as 300 T-cells—white blood cells that help find and kill external agents that attack the immune system.

At concentrations as low as 20 parts per billion, thimerosal initiates inflammatory responses, and at concentrations of 200 parts per billion causes death of dendritic cells. Affected dendritic cells can quickly become “rogue,” producing misinformation that could activate aberrant and harmful immune responses. “Even one rogue dendritic cell can activate many inappropriate immune responses,” says Dr. Pessah.

“Our findings do not directly implicate thimerosal as a single causative agent for triggering neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism,” he says. “There is growing evidence that autism is several disorders that we now refer to as just one, and that some children with autism have unique immune cell composition and responses to antigens. The results of our work provide a framework to test the hypothesis that the genetic background of some individuals may render them especially susceptible to thimerosal.” Dr. Pessah will next study dendritic cells in humans with and without autism. The mouse study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the UC Davis M.I.N.D. Institute.

Jack Stanton…“”John Stone…Do you dispute the data in the Wing and Gillberg studies? Are you defending the idea of an autism epidemic?””

I think Jack Stanton quoting the Gillberg study as a testament on autism is ridiculous, not only because it was easily rebutted (Gillberg et al concluded on MMR and autsim using data not produced for that purpose AND ignored the probable effects of single antigen measles vaccines in the cohort that had been in use at least a decade before MMR was introduced) but also as he and /or his team unlawfully destroyed all the data they had used to produce their questionable study, coincident with repeated requests for proper independent scientific analysis and evaluation of that data by another (Swedish?) scientist.

Jack Stanton…“”Jack Humphries…Limited vision? The Camberwell Study gave us the triad of impairments, the idea of an autistic spectrum and helped to shape the diagnostic criteria. It remains a groundbreaking study. “”

What has that to do with the massive changes in classifications in DSM and ID since autism was first “defined” - from the few to the very many in a couple of decades?

Thence correlating for epidemiological purpose the diversity of ASDs, individualities, background, environments, lifestyle, social situation, ethnicity, with vaccines and vaccinations – products of diverse manufacturing, content, constituents, scheduling, batch variation, variablity in the integrity of records and data collection and collation – makes it as I already said an impossible task for epidemiology; only solid clinical studies can point the way (as per Wakefield, Burbacher, Geier, Singh etc., - those most hazardous to vaccinology therefore which have felt the dishonest wrath of big pharma shrills and related media incessantly despite the enormity of their value to our future children) combined with strong parental and victim anecdote supported by (often lacking due to professional mugging and protectionism) honourable medical supportive evidence.

As to the general concepts of autism as Camberwell etc.; even without DSM and ID, it is clear that persons with ASDs demonstrate an exteremly wide and diverse range of symptoms and behaviours – even the original concept of “aloneness” is now widely discredited; the idea that there is an essential ingredient of “wanting to be alone” has been (thankfully) replaced by a greater realisation that, although often preferring social intergration, variable and varying sensory difficulties can prevent such close interaction or at least preclude it other than on the strictly limiting terms of the autistic person.

Hey Jack Humphries!

Here is a clue. Your name is Jack. I am called Mike. Would you like to start again?

John Stone,

Do you know the difference between incidence and prevalence? When you do, please come back and we can start again.

Hi Twyla,

I wanted to thank for your continuing public service in demonstrating how completely bogus the vaccine skeptic's arguments are.

We have already demonstrated that the claim that there is no data on 100% unvaccinated kids is not true. In fact the data from completely unvaccinated kids demonstrates that vaccination doesn't increase the risk for autism.

And you are silent on the issue. Not even so little as a "Whoops, we were wrong."

Now the really interesting point is that as previously pointed out to you, the data on completely unvaccinated kids is posted by the very people that claim that data doesn't exist. So you can't possibly attribute this factually incorrect argument to ignorance.

Instead you changed the subject and posted a snippet from a press release (?).

It would have been much more useful if you had posted the paper. Remember, I already pointed out that one learns the truth about a study by reading the study.

Here is the actual study:

The scientists who read the study can't help but laugh at the absurdity of someone suggesting this study supports the idea that vaccines cause autism.

For those that aren't scientists, we are lucky that in the Cedillo decision the court detailed the gross incompetency of those that claim this study supports the idea that vaccines cause autism.

You remember the Cedillo decision right? The one the court described your side as misleading the Cedillo family and of being guilty of gross misjudgment?

With regard to the Pessah study you referred us to, the court carefully explained how the vaccine skeptics didn't understand the purpose of the experiment or how to interpret the results. They also got the chemistry and the biology and the toxicology and the math wrong.

Or to quote the court, your side isn't just wrong it is "very wrong", that the case "is not a close case" and "the evidence is overwhelming contrary" to your arguments.

So while I agree that your side's ability to present nonsense in support of a simply incorrect idea is essentially infinite, I stand by my statement that it is mostly harmless.

Just about anyone can figure out the falseness of the vaccine skeptics--you just have to try.

Mike Stanton

I am perfectly aware of the difference between the possible meanings of "incidence" and "prevalence", however I think you are splitting hairs and trying to distract from what else I have said.

"""""Hey Jack Humphries!...Here is a clue. Your name is Jack. I am called Mike. Would you like to start again?"""

Certainly Mike, sorry for the misnomer, Jack's an old pal of mine and you are not. The remainder of my response requires no apology.

White & Nerdy

Actually, Verstraeten still wasn't sure in 2004:

"Because the findings of the first phase were not replicated in the second phase, the perception of the study changed from a positive to a neutral study. Surprisingly, however, the study is being interpreted now as negative by many, including the antivaccine lobbyists. The article does not state that we found evidence against an association, as a negative study would. It does state, on the contrary, that additional study is recommended, which is the conclusion to which a neutral study must come."

However, the authors of the UK study used in IoM review chose to ignore the doubling of the autism rate associated with the accelerated DPT schedule in 1990:

Oh dear!

Mike Stanton

Just to make the point clear - if you have two prevalence studies for Camberwell (1975) and Gothenburg, Sweden (1993) at different times they would certainly be prevalence studies. However, if you then try and project figures for a wider population without reference to geography or time from those figures then it is only the incidence in those places at that time.

The only sense you can make of the claim that prevalence is 91 in 10,000 in the UK is they are saying it is the same everywhere and always, which is an ambitious and unwarrented claim.

In 2004 Prof Gillberg was found guilty of misuse of office after he destroyed the data of another study, when a fellow academic detected inconsistencies in the record.

I think White & Nerdy is a little grumpy because pretty soon he will be White, Nerdy, and Unemployed.

@ White & Nerdy -

You said: “Here is the first thing you posted to me: ‘W&N, that is not true. Give us your source.’ Wow, you claim to know the truth about a study before reading the study.”

I’m not saying that I know what the study says. I’m saying, what study?? Give us a citation for a study that compares autism rates among vaxed and unvaxed kids. In your subsequent comment you posted a link, but when I copied it into Google it took me to a Huffington Post article, not to a study – and it was just one page, not 44+ pages. You said there is such a study at Put Children First? Where? How about telling us the names of these studies, when and where they were published, who did them – to help us find them?

You said, “And you are silent on the issue.” Guess what, I have a whole lot going on in my life, and although I spend more time blogging than I should, I don’t respond to every comment promptly. And I believe I wrote my comment on the UC Davis Davis Thimerosal study before your post mentioned above was even showing here – as comments are moderated here.

Regarding the study on “Toxicology Study Links Thimerosal to Immune Dysfunction in Mice”, you are correct that I neglected to post a link. I thought of that after I posted my comment. Here are a couple of links. And these both contain links to the full article:

You also said, “The scientists who read the study can't help but laugh at the absurdity of someone suggesting this study supports the idea that vaccines cause autism.” This study by itself does not prove that vaccines cause autism. But it does show that nanomolar concentrations of thimerosal harm the immune system. Other studies show that people with autism have high rates of immune system dysfunction. Needless to say, not all autism is caused by thimerosal. But this does not mean that no autism is caused by thimerosal. I posted this study in response to comments often made by vaccine defenders saying things like, “Aw, a little bit of mercury won’t harm anyone! It’s just a tad! Ethyl mercury’s not as bad as methyl mercury!” And I posted it because it is published science from a reputable source describing exactly how mercury can affect certain very important cells.

You said, “For those that aren't scientists, we are lucky that in the Cedillo decision the court detailed the gross incompetency of those that claim this study supports the idea that vaccines cause autism.” Those judges are not scientists either. I disagree with their rulings. There have been other rulings in favor of the injured children.

I am a Canadian, a lawyer and father of a 13 year old severely autistic boy. I have never attributed his autism to vaccines and used to accept the public health authorities position that there was no evidence of a connection to autism. Recently though I have begun to doubt the scientific legitimacy of arguments alleging that a vaccine autism causal connection has been disproven. Some of my doubts arise from what appear to me to be unscientific arguments .... by vaccine program supporters like Dr. Paul Offitt and Dr. Thomas Insel.

The studies cited by vaccine program defenders are all epidemiological and are not, according to former NIH head and vaccine program supporter Dr. Bernadine Healy, specific enough to address the impact of vaccines on vulnerable population subsets. The epidemiological studies in question were also marked by researcher conflicts ... ties to the pharmaceutical industry.

Dr. Healy, Dr. Julie Gerberding former CDC head, and Dr. Jon Poling a neurologist whose daughters vaccine induced autism claim was settled in her favor by the government, have called for an observational study to be done comparing autism rates amongst existing un-vaccinated groups with vaccinated populations. Dr. Thomas Insel head of the IACC stated erroneously before Senator Harkin's committee that such a study could not be done. Dr Healy also called for more lab studies to be done. Yet such research has been actively and expressly discouraged by the Institute of Medicine since 2004.

Vaccines , as Dr Offitt and Dr Insel repeat incessantly, have done much to conquer terrible diseases that in the past led to death and disfigurement. That fact is not in dispute by most who express concerns about a possible vaccine autism connection. It is still important though to determine with greater certainty what role, if any, vaccines play in the dramatically increasing rates of autism diagnoses. By silly tactics like branding parents as ignorant and hysterical, ignoring concerns expressed by reputable authorities like Dr. Healy and Dr. Poling, and by refusing to do the conflict free, serious research that might actually shed some light on the environmental triggers of autism including possible vaccine and vaccine ingredient triggers it is the vaccine program authorities and spokespersons who are abandoning science.

Hi John Stone,

Many people here claim that there is no data on 100% unvaccinated kids. This is simply not true. I argue that if the skeptics can’t get the basic facts wrong, then it follows that everything else they argue will be wrong.

It was kind of you to post Dr V.’s letter—where he describes how the vaccine skeptics have misrepresented the paper—but it doesn’t address the issue being disputed.

Changing the subject…
If you think about the math, you will realize that Dr. V’s “neutral” study is not consistent with vaccines causing autism. And it is completely impossible to reconcile the data with the claim that vaccines are responsible for a dramatic increase in the risk for autism.

While I very much enjoy your chutzpah of referencing your own work as an amateur epidemiologist, your conclusion that the autism rate doubled is incorrect. The rate of autism is not actually measured in the work you are discussing.

You are free to spend the next 5 to 9 years learning the discipline so you can understand your error.

Or you can take the short-cut, and notice that in court’s of law—you know where perjury would apply—no one will testify under oath to the skeptics’ claims about the changes in autism rate.

Hi Twyla,

Your comments are here for all to read. You claim to know the truth before reading the studies. Seems incredibly clear to me.

On this site all you have to do is to click on the link I provided. It works every time for me. If you still can’t get the link to work all you have to do is to go to autismhelpforyou site and the link is right on their homepage.

The actually data can be found here:

You will excuse me if I am skeptical that you can understand it.

You can also find data comparing 100% unvaccinated kids to vaccinated on Safeminds and NAA and Nomercury and Thoughfulhouse and Age of Autism.

Simply boggles the mind how anyone could honestly believe that there isn’t any data on 100% unvaccinated kids.

Here is a quote from 10May09 Age of Autism article (“Goal Posts”) which includes a link to data from 100% unvaccinated kids:

“1. The person making the statement has never independently verified what they are saying and is simply parroting the words of others before them
2. They are lying”

Words for you to think about.

Of course, it shouldn’t be possible to make it through mid-school and not laugh at the Goal Posts article—but then none of the readers seemed to of noticed any problems with it.

Moving on to the Goth paper, contrary to your assertion it in absolutely no way shows that a bit of mercury can harm the immune system. And the special masters didn’t simply reject your argument; they explain in detail how absurd the argument is.
By the way, one of the special masters is a scientist and one is an engineer. Once again instead of arguing by assertion (“Those judges are not scientists either”) you might try getting some facts first.

Hi Sylvia,

You might be a more effective advocate for your side if instead of personal attacks you responded with some ration argument.

Of course that would require there to be rational arguments that supports your position.

But I do very much enjoy the irony of your comments about my personal employment.

If you have been paying attention you will have noticed among the vaccines cause autism business model, that the physicians are losing their licenses to practice, the attorneys have been publicly censored for their ethical misconduct and false billings, and the so called scientists have been characterized by the courts as liars.

I agree that a lot of folks are going to be unemployed, sued and possibly disbarred or in prison. Too bad society has to intervene when parents really should have been able to figure this out on their own

Some of the comments on this blog are scary! But this is one of the best blogs ever! Thanks!


You are free to go on showing off and splitting hairs till Kingdom Come - though I can scarcely defer to your greater expertise if you don't even venture your name, and can't actually state what the substantive error is. This is the caption on the graph:
"Observed and expected number of childhood or atypical autism cases diagnosed by the age of 10 years, by year of birth."
And we see the numbers identified for these districts in N.London according to these criteria rise from 22 cases in the 1989 cohort to 47 in 1991 - that is at the time of the introduction of the accelerated DPT schedule. No cause for concern then?

Hi John Stone,

It is a simple fact that there is data on 100% unvaccinated kids compared to vaccinated kids and vaccination didn't increase the risk for autism.

If you wish to characterize pointing out that claims to the contrary (e.g. " There's never been a study comparing vaccinated and unvaccinated children for autism rates." Posted by: Anne McElroy Dachel | August 24, 2009 at 01:25 PM" etc , etc) are untrue as "hair-splitting", that is your prerogative.

I think it is fair to say that most open-minded people find greater significance in this error. Especially when it is so easy to find references to the data on 100% unvaccinated kids throughout the very sites that claim vaccines cause autism.

But then the part that really cooks your noodle is that even after demonstrating this error I can not find any site with the integrity to say "sorry, we were wrong there is data on 100 unvaccinated kids".

But there are postings celebrating the "rebuttal" posted here by Ginger Taylor even though she untruthfully claims that:
"Yet "science" has never done a simple study that took a large group of vaccinated children and a large group of children whose parents chose not to vaccinate them, and compared them for autism incidence!"
Not that it really matters since she gets basically everything wrong--a fact that should be obvious with any effort to check her arguments.

Finally, the point that you continue to dance around is that you haven't studied epidemiology and those that actually understand the subject reject your assertions about the data. In this case with any good faith attempt at all you really should be able to figure out the very important difference between reported cases of autism and actual cases of autism.

Or you can leave the issue to those that understand what they are talking about.


If the government and AAP were really concerned they would be listening carefully to parents' accounts of what happened to their children not trying to shut them up - as I notice Bernardine Healy was saying last night. The IoM review of 2001-04 was a stitch up (which is a matter of record):

So, we know what we are talking about (how unlike White&Nerdy) these are the notorious remarks of Drs McCormick and Stratton at a closed IoM vaccine committtee meeting in 2001:

Dr. Marie McCormick:...[CDC] wants us to declare, well, these things are pretty safe on a population basis (p.33).

Dr. Stratton:...The point of no return, the line we will not cross in public policy is pull the vaccine, change the schedule. We could say it is time to revisit this, but we would never recommend that level. Even recommending research is recommendations for policy. We wouldn't say compensate, we wouldn't say pull the vaccine, we wouldn't say stop the program (p.74).

Dr. McCormick:...we are not ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect...(p.97).

-IOM Committee Meeting, 1/12/2001 Closed-Door Meeting Transcript

White & Nerdy –
Here is the bio of George Hastings, the Special Master in the Cedillo case (which is the case you mentioned) :

George L. Hastings
Mr. Hastings was appointed Special Master in March 1989. He graduated from the University of Michigan, receiving a B.A. degree, magna cum laude, in 1974, and from the University of Michigan Law School, receiving a J.D. degree, cum laude, in 1977.

Mr. Hastings served as Assistant Chief, Claims Court Section, Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice 1985-1989. Previously he served as Attorney, Appellate Section, Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice, 1978-1985, and as news editor for Good Morning Michigan, 1975.

Mr. Hastings was the recipient of the Tax Division Outstanding Attorney Award, 1981 and 1984, and the Attorney General’s Special Commendation, 1983. He is a member of the bars of the State of Michigan, the United States Supreme Court, and numerous other Federal courts.
Scientist? Nope. Wow, he’s got a lot of background in taxes.

Again, I did not “claim to know the truth before reading the studies”. I said that there have not been any formal studies comparing vaxed and unvaxed kids. Your links continue not to work for me, and you continue to be unwilling to state the names of these studies, when they were done, who did them, and where published.

Thanks for reminding me of the AoA article about moving the goal posts, an excellent article! It can be found at

I have no idea how you can say “Moving on to the Goth paper, contrary to your assertion it in absolutely no way shows that a bit of mercury can harm the immune system.” That is exactly what this paper showed. Again see (headline “Uncoupling of ATP-Mediated Calcium Signaling and Dysregulated Interleukin-6 Secretion in Dendritic Cells by Nanomolar Thimerosal”) and (headline “UC Davis Study with Mice Links Thimerosal with Immune System Dysfunction”), and the complete study which you have already cited.

Your tone is extremely arrogant and obnoxious, showing more signs of animosity than reason. That analysis is based on my B.A. in English.



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