Since I posted my second annual Golden Woo Awards winners, it seems to me as though every woo in the world has been making their best efforts to get nominated for an award in 2010. Case in point – David Kirby just wrote a startling un-self-aware piece in (where else), entitled The Lancet Retraction Changes Nothing. (Yeah, I knew you’d say that David. Over two years ago you wrote a similar thing – see Results Are In / Debate’s Not Over.) It seems Kirby is trying hard for a “most persistent refusal to face reality” honor – and I have to tell you, he’s the front runner so far. He starts off with an assertion that I partially agree with, although not in quite the way he means:
I believe that the public lynching and shaming of Dr. Wakefield is unwarranted and overwrought, and that history will ultimately judge who was right and who was wrong about proposing a possible association between vaccination and regressive autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).
Well yes, history probably will be the judge about who was right and who was wrong on this. And I’m pretty sure it will show David Kirby to be wrong.
That was just for starters. Barely worth a rebuttal, but fun to do anyway. Here’s where it got me re-reading what Kirby had written before:
The evidence that autism is increasing at alarming rates, and that some thing (or things) in our environment is wreaking havoc on a vulnerable one-percent of all US children is now so irrefutable that, finally, the federal government is climbing aboard the environmental research bandwagon - way late, but better than never.
Kirby is reacting to the claim that autism may not really be increasing, or may not be increasing as much as people think, and that the reported increase may really (or mainly) be a result of the widening of diagnostic criteria, and more attention being paid to the issue. Kirby is saying this is not true, and the increase is real. If the increase is real, he says, then environmental factors must be to blame, and that includes vaccines. (Actually, when you break down the weasel wording, he’s really saying it is vaccines. More on that later.)
Get that? If autism is really increasing, then vaccines must be to blame.
But, and here’s a funny story, in 2005 someone called David Kirby posted (same place) Autism, Mercury and the California Numbers, where he wrote:
For months now, a mantra of the thimerosal defenders has been as follows: “Mercury was removed from vaccines years ago, and we have not seen a drop in autism rates.”
It looks like they might have to find a new slogan.
Freshly reported numbers out of California show that new cases entering that state’s disability system (children who are three-to-four years old and newly diagnosed with autism) have indeed dropped since 2002, marking the first decline in new autism cases since California began tracking the mysterious disorder.
See, this David Kirby guy from 1995 thought that decreasing autism rates meant that autism was caused by vaccines. Of course, that David Kirby was “author of “Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic” (St. Martin’s Press 2005)” – unlike the David Kirby from yesterday, whose post mentions nothing about that book. Different guy. I’ll bet that David Kirby, the one writing yesterday, thinks that David Kirby from 2005 is a real douche. Hey, want to know something else that David Kirby from 2005 wrote? See this in the New York Times in June of that year:
Because autism is usually diagnosed sometime between a child's third and fourth birthdays and thimerosal was largely removed from childhood vaccines in 2001, the incidence of autism should fall this year
That David Kirby (in 2005) believed that falling rates of autism would prove that vaccines caused autism. David Kirby from yesterday believes that rising autism rates prove that vaccines caused autism. How to explain this seeming contradiction? The only sensible conclusion is that these are two different people, both of whom just happen to be called David Kirby and who both believe vaccines cause autism. That’s the only explanation. Because if they were actually the same person, then that person would be saying that whatever happens to autism rates – going up or going down – they both prove vaccines cause autism. Nothing could ever, even theoretically, get that person to change his mind. What an idiot that guy would be. If he were one and the same person.
Back to current day David Kirby:
This long-overdue paradigm shift will leave many in the scientific community with some proverbial but nonetheless uncomfortable egg on their increasingly irrelevant faces: Those who have protested with shrill certainty that autism is almost purely genetic, and not environmental in nature, and therefore not really increasing at all, will hopefully recede from the debate. [My bold]
Well, I certainly hope that David Kirby guy from 2005 is embarrassed about all that uncomfortable egg on his increasingly irrelevant face. He was certainly wrong about Thimerosal. Perhaps he will, now, hopefully recede from the debate. I’ll bet David Kirby 2010 hopes so too. But there is one more thing about that paragraph. See the word “will” that I bolded? As in “will leave…” The word “will” expresses the simple future tense – in this case a general prediction about the future. The paradigm shift Kirby is talking about once his proof is in, will occur in the future. The future, when vaccines, Kirby claims, will be proven to cause autism. The future, when (as Kirby tells us) “history will [future tense] ultimately judge who was right and who was wrong.” Now read what follows:
And that begs a nagging question: If those people were dead wrong about environmental factors in autism, could they also be mistaken in their equally heated denials about a possible vaccine-autism link? More bluntly, why should we heed them any longer? [My bold.]
Kirby takes speculation of what might be proven in the future, to make a firm assertion about people who he claims were “dead wrong” in the past. Sheesh – did he not think anyone would notice he just made an unsupported assertion based on speculation about the future? It wasn’t that hard to spot – the one followed directly after the other. Either that or Kirby is in possession of a time machine to know for certain what history will tell us. (Perhaps he could use it to go back to 2005 and talk to that other David Kirby before he makes a complete fool of himself.)
I mentioned before the weasel wording, to claim it’s not really vaccines. Here we go:
We need to examine a host of environmental factors (air, water, food, medicine, household products and social factors) and how they might interact with vulnerable genes to create the varying collection of symptoms we call "autism." But these triggers almost have to be found in every town of every county of every state in the land - from Maine to Maui.
Are vaccines the only contributing factors to autism? Of course not. Other pharmaceutical products like thalidomide and valporic acid, as well as live mumps virus, have been associated with increased autism risk in prenatal exposures, so we already know that a variety of drugs and bugs can likely make a child autistic.
So it’s not just vaccines. “Of course not,” he says. How could we be so dumb as to think he’s just blaming vaccines? Oh, I don’t know, but it might have something to do with what directly follows:
- Claims of six cases of autism caused by vaccines
- Hannah Poling – claims autism caused by vaccines
- Bailey banks - claims autism caused by vaccines
- Study in the Journal of Child Neurology – claims autism caused by vaccines
- Another review in PLoS Online - claims autism caused by vaccines
- 1,300 cases of vaccine injuries paid out in vaccine court
- Asks “is it not reasonable to ask if [vaccines] can cause similar injuries that lead to autism?
- Claim that the federal government is interested in “including a few studies that take in vaccines and the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal”
- Kirby asks Thomas Insel if the IACC would ever support direct research into vaccines and autism
(Read Orac today – The martyrdom of St. Andy, part 2: David Kirby rides to the rescue (sort of) - for an explanation of why those claims listed above, the studies, Hannah Poling etc etc – do not show an association of vaccines to autism.)
If it’s not just vaccines David, why did you follow it up with nine points concerning vaccines causing autism and nothing on any non-vaccine causes?
So this is what it’s come to. Some years ago, Kirby (or was it the other Kirby?) wrote a book saying autism is caused by mercury in vaccines. It has now been shown beyond any reasonable doubt that it does not. But Kirby is too invested in this that he just can’t let it go. If it’s not mercury then it’s something else in the vaccines. Or some environmental factors (vaccines, vaccines). Wakefield has to be supported because he claimed the MMR vaccine caused autism (even though everyone knows MMR never had any mercury in it), and anyone who is against vaccines must be OK. The science is coming up with nothing to support Kirby’s position so he writes that science is increasingly supporting his position. Denial truly is not just a river in Egypt, it is where David Kirby lives and breathes. While ignoring the uncomfortable egg on his increasingly irrelevant faces*.
* Not a typo.