Field of Science

Gayle DeLong, SafeMinds Board member and a Vax = Autism study?

(Image: A boy in Afghanistan receives a life-saving polio vaccine, not having the first-world luxury of going without and relying on wealth and herd immunity to protect himself).

Two things for your consideration:

From SafeMinds:

Gayle DeLong - Board Member

Dr. Gayle DeLong is a parent of two girls with autism. Starting in May 2005, her family began biomedical interventions to treat the girls' illness. Both girls have benefited greatly from supplements, diet, chelation, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Gayle holds a Ph.D. in international business and finance from New York University as well as an International Master's in Business Administration from the University of South Carolina. She teaches international finance at Baruch College, City University of New York. She serves on SafeMind's research committee. She has attended rallies in Washington, DC to promote safer vaccines and spoken against adding vaccines to New Jersey's mandated schedule at a public hearing in Trenton, NJ. She lives with her husband and two daughters in Morristown, NJ.


A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination Uptake across the U.S. Population

Abstract

The reason for the rapid rise of autism in the United States that began in the 1990s is a mystery. Although individuals probably have a genetic predisposition to develop autism, researchers suspect that one or more environmental triggers are also needed. One of those triggers might be the battery of vaccinations that young children receive. Using regression analysis and controlling for family income and ethnicity, the relationship between the proportion of children who received the recommended vaccines by age 2 years and the prevalence of autism (AUT) or speech or language impairment (SLI) in each U.S. state from 2001 and 2007 was determined. A positive and statistically significant relationship was found: The higher the proportion of children receiving recommended vaccinations, the higher was the prevalence of AUT or SLI. A 1% increase in vaccination was associated with an additional 680 children having AUT or SLI. Neither parental behavior nor access to care affected the results, since vaccination proportions were not significantly related (statistically) to any other disability or to the number of pediatricians in a U.S. state. The results suggest that although mercury has been removed from many vaccines, other culprits may link vaccines to autism. Further study into the relationship between vaccines and autism is warranted.

Author: Gayle DeLong.

How did this abstract even get past reviewers for this journal?

Let's take it on, piece by piece.
Statement: "The reason for the rapid rise of autism in the United States that began in the 1990s is a mystery."
Not really. Much of it has been attributed to better diagnosis. And it's not only in the United States, as a recent study based in South Korea found. As study author Young-Shin Kim said about that huge study, “It seems that many children with autism-spectrum disorders have been here all along but haven’t been counted in previous studies."

Statement: "Although individuals probably have a genetic predisposition to develop autism, researchers suspect that one or more environmental triggers are also needed."
Which researchers "suspect" that? Studies actually suggest a strong genetic component to autism, but it is likely to be multifactorial. The thing is, one factor that has been clearly ruled out, over and over and over again, is vaccines.

Statement: "One of those triggers might be the battery of vaccinations that young children receive."
That. Horse. Is. Dead. Stop beating on it. See commentary on huge Pediatrics study (noted above) and others. This statement alone should have stopped any reviewers dead in their tracks.

Statements: "Using regression analysis and controlling for family income and ethnicity, the relationship between the proportion of children who received the recommended vaccines by age 2 years and the prevalence of autism (AUT) or speech or language impairment (SLI) in each U.S. state from 2001 and 2007 was determined. A positive and statistically significant relationship was found: The higher the proportion of children receiving recommended vaccinations, the higher was the prevalence of AUT or SLI. A 1% increase in vaccination was associated with an additional 680 children having AUT or SLI.."
First, she included "any speech or language impairment." That's a large population that extends well beyond autistic people. Second, given that this isn't Denmark, none of this information could possibly be very complete; several U.S. databases were used, but they're by no means complete. Third, one author alleges to have done this study. Really? Fifty states, data for ALL diagnoses of autism, speech/language impairment, vaccinations received, from 2001 and 2007? In the paper itself, the author actually states that her map results present "an ambiguous picture: Some states,such as Texas, have low vaccination rates and low prevalence of autism, while other states, such as Indiana, have low vaccination rates and a high prevalence of autism. Conversely, Wyoming has a high vaccination rate and high prevalence of autism, while Vermont has a high vaccination rate and low prevalence of autism." These statements do not seem to support the title of this paper or really any conclusions at all. Also, note that the author continuously references "autism" in the paper even though the data included all speech and language impairment diagnoses.

Statement: "Neither parental behavior nor access to care affected the results, since vaccination proportions were not significantly related (statistically) to any other disability or to the number of pediatricians in a U.S. state"
Vaccination proportions were not related statistically to *any other disability*...that does not take into account that autism is notoriously difficult to diagnose and usually isn't before age 3 and does often require access to care and specific parental behaviors to diagnose. Children of parents who are more aware and have greater access to care, as studies indicate, will be more likely to have an autism diagnosis. Relating this in the context of diagnosis of other disabilities that probably have pathognomonic features is irrelevant. Why did no reviewer catch this?

Statement: "The results suggest that although mercury has been removed from many vaccines, other culprits may link vaccines to autism."
And they do it again. These are the most flexible goalposts in the history of research. For years, it was the mercury, the thimerosal. Now that these bugbears have been killed off, well...it must be something else in the vaccines. Can't be any other environmental exposure. It's vaccines! Every time one of these pet vaccine-related ideas gets debunked, the antivax obsseso-posse moves the damned goalposts. Let. It. Go. We have so many more and better places to look.

Statement: "Further study into the relationship between vaccines and autism is warranted."
No. No, it's not.

In this paper, DeLong cites, among others, SafeMinds' Mark Blaxill once and the Geiers three times. Yes, those Geiers. Oh, and a paper from Med Veritas and one paper published in 1995 in a veterinary journal, "Are we vaccinating too much?" And this somehow escaped reviewers' attention?

Now let's look at the title: "A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination Uptake across the U.S. Population." Even if the correlation is valid, the title is incredibly misleading. The author included all diagnoses of speech and language impairment in this analysis. It's not only autism that's included here.

The conclusion of this paper also should have received more reviewer notice, as it is wall-to-wall careless and unsupported speculation, in many cases about ideas that have been debunked:

"Evidence presented in this paper suggests a possible link between susceptible children receiving a battery of vaccinations and developing autism or speech disorders. Although Hg has been removed from many childhood vaccines, other ingredients could link vaccines to autism. Aluminum, which is found in at least 20 U.S. childhood vaccines (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2010), is not only a neurotoxin, but also an immunosuppressant that may allow measles-containing vac-cines to create cytokines that damage the brain. Enhanced exposure to aluminum via vaccines may be associated with an increase in the prevalence of neurological disorders such as autism, especially if an aluminum-containing vaccine is administered along with a measles-containing vaccine. Reducing thimerosal and observing an increase in autism exonerates neither thimerosal nor vaccines from being potential links to autism (italics mine). Further research into the relationship between vaccines and autism is warranted."

Bye-bye, Hg. Look out, Al. You're next, you old, old, old vaccine preservative, you. And what level of denial must one have achieved to make that italicized statement? Of greater importance...why did no reviewer take the author up on it?

The acceptance and publication of this paper appear to have been careless to an extreme. I'd like to know who the reviewers were.

The paper notes DeLong's association with SafeMinds, the organization responsible for this irresponsible attack on public health. I also note that nowhere in DeLong's bio does it mention expertise in epidemiology, vaccines, autism, biology, toxicology, or other related research.

Conflict of interest disclosure: I have a paper published in this journal. Now, I'm wondering just how little that paper is worth.

-------------------------------
ETA...As I find other writeups of this paper, I'll link them here.

  • Sullivan, at LBRB, takes a closer look at the paper and shows how the inclusion of speech and language impairments simply swamps the autism data.
  • Here is Neuroskeptic's take on it, specifically looking at the statistical analyses.
  • Autism parent and in-depth analyzer Kim Wombles takes it on here.
  • The ever-humble and scathing Orac scathes away here.

7 comments:

  1. Vaccines = Autism . We the parents know it , and science knows it . Its just the $30 billion a year industry that cannot accept it . The bigger the house of cards you fraudsters build , the more its going to hurt when it comes down . If it isnt vaccines , then what is it ? Or is it the rather comical excuse "autism has always been here , we've just never noticed it before" , even this lame excuse makes science look shocking.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi, Anon. My name is Emily Willingham. You see that I can use my own name. Let me take your statements one at a time.

    Vaccines /= autism. A substantial body of literature, both correlational and causative, has established that. A huge majority of parents do not agree with you (see recent surveys on this very question showing that at least 75% of parents do not). Science does not agree with you (see links above).

    I am not a member of whatever the $30 billion/y industry to which you refer, which I assume is Big Pharma, and I never have been. You do realize, right, that you're implicating hundreds of thousands of doctors, nurses, other medical practitioners, basic researchers, clinical researchers, epidemiologists, the CDC, WHO, and many, many others in a vast global conspiracy to harm and maim children, all to funnel $$ to Big Pharma. Right? That's nonsensical.

    Yet you consider it "rather comical" to say that changes in diagnostic criteria can largely explain the increase in autism (with, I'll add, a concordant decrease in MR/ID diagnoses, among other things). Substantial evidence exists to support that explanation, including the fact that a large proportion of autism diagnoses are of the so-called "high-functioning" kind that flew under the "classic" autism diagnostic radar. Oh, and then there's that enormous Korean study referred to in the post above that identified even more--based on now-existing criteria--who still had gone undiagnosed.

    Science looks shocking? That's a vague statement, but I think it's shocking to accuse hundreds of thousands of hard-working concerned and involved citizens of participation--blind or willing--in a huge global conspiracy to maim or harm children for money.

    ReplyDelete
  3. If this went to referees, they clearly failed as this paper is so clearly bad.

    There are many points--even beyond those you make--which call this study into question. But, take everything at face value. The simple test is to just look at the data in table 1.

    http://leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/Table1a1.png

    The "vaccination rate" (they have a very odd definition) goes up dramatically in the first two years of the study. The "autism+SLI rate" does not.

    If there were a real association between the two, it would be clear in those first columns of data.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Matt, it's a huge mess from beginning to end. You've done a great job, and I was pleased to see that you dug up the data on autism vs SLI in CA, which is compelling. To dig into all of the problems of this paper would take a treatise longer than the paper itself, so I stuck primarily with the abstract and conclusion and a few conflicting statements within the report. The reviewers--and the journal editor--really are at fault here. I'm thinking that authors suggest reviewers, and the journal uses those reviewers or else selects reviewers from the reference list? I know that's a process for some journals to save on searching for reviewers themselves.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for this Emily.

    The lumping of Speech & Language Impairment with autism should really have been a huge red flag for the reviewers.

    I put a link to this post at Neuroskeptic.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Just wanted to say, well done and well written. Thank you.
    Tessa

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  7. Well done Emily. Unfortunately, this execrable study is now being used in a new anti-vaccine opinion piece in this weekend's Baltimore Sun, by Margaret Dunkle, another anti-vaxxer: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/oped/bs-ed-vaccines-illness-20110711,0,7906966.story
    I've alerted several other science bloggers, and we are preparing rebuttals.

    ReplyDelete

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