The April issue of the journal Pediatrics contains a study by Paul Shattuck at the University of Wisconsin, entitled, The Contribution of Diagnostic Substitution to the Growing Administrative Prevalence of Autism in US Special Education. This study would appear to contradict the view that there is an epidemic of autism – the supposed autism epidemic that many blame on vaccines. Orac recently wrote a good summary of the paper.
Of course, if there has been no increase in autism, the case against vaccines being responsible for this (non) increase is weakened quite a bit (or a lot). Unsurprisingly the vaccines-cause-autism industry wasted no time in smearing Shattuck with the usual personal attacks, claims of bias due to funding, and phony links to discredited researchers. No valid criticisms of the actual data, though. For a good take-down of these fallacious smear tactics you really should read (this time) Orac’s take down of Shattuck’s critics.
Also, you should read the comments section. Shattuck himself leaves a detailed comment, and I thought I would highlight a couple of the points he made.
First, he tackles the accusation that he received a large grant from the CDC:
As for the $540,000 from the CDC...it's not entirely clear what they are talking about. I certainly don't have a grant that big from anyone. They are probably talking about the autism surveillance grant that our center received from the CDC...a proposal which I helped prepare but am not listed as a co-investigator and am not funded from. Our University is one of several sites around the country funded to do prospective monitoring of the prevalence of autism and other disorders...am not sure why that is so horrible in the eyes of some advocates.
So his critics essentially made that one up.
On whether being a autism skeptic is actually a lucrative career for a researcher:
If I was truly an unscrupulous researcher looking to boost my grant portfolio in any way possible then I would be better off trying to stoke concerns about an epidemic, rather than do the research I've undertaken. I've actually had colleagues from other universities nervously joke that if concern about autism fades then their research funding might dry up. So, the "unscrupulous researcher bends findings to boost financial self-interest" angle doesn't hold up to scrutiny.
What do you know? Pushing vaccines-cause autism is where the money is. (That would explain the Geiers.)
And on the smear by association – the claim that a fellow researcher had been discredited (and so by association Shattuck must also be tainted):
Finally, yes there was a graduate student who was caught doing bad things at the same University where I was a graduate student. She was disciplined appropriately by the University and the NIH, and the small amount of affected data was quickly quarantined and never made its way into any published work. The attempt to paint me as guilty of data falsification because I was a graduate student at the same time as this person is just incredibly insulting.
Lame, just lame. And totally dishonest.
And a general comment on the (lack of) honesty and integrity of Shattuck’s critics:
It's worth noting none of the attacks on me have actually addressed the evidence presented in my paper. It's been my experience in debating that when one side abandons talking about evidence in favor of personal attacks it's usually because they have no credible evidence to bring to the table themselves.
Precisely. It’s called ad hominem, and it’s a logical fallacy for the reason that you don’t arrive at the conclusions they want you to from the arguments they present.
I don’t know if thimerosal in vaccines causes autism, honestly I don’t, but I doubt it for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that autism and mercury poisoning appear to be different. But I could be wrong – I’m not an expert on this subject. But you would think that anyone honestly out to find out what causes autism would be interested in Shattuck’s study, and would at least examine the data to see if it was good. That they don’t is telling. When the vaccines-cause autism group appears only to be interested in shutting down opposition by smear tactics and other dishonesty, you’ve got to wonder what they have to hide.