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Saturday, October 3, 2015

Antivax Groups Fund a Study that Undercuts Their Beliefs

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the many, many studies that have debunked the notion of a link between autism and vaccines.

At Forbes, Emily Willingham writes of a recent animal study that further debunked the vaccine theory (as well as an earlier "hot mess" of a study).
Before people cry “Pharma Shill” on this, it’s also worth noting the funders of this study:
We thank the following for their generous financial support: The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, and the Johnson and Vernick families.
SafeMinds, an organization dedicated to demonstrating a mercury- or vaccine-related causation of autism, probably didn’t have this outcome in mind when they funded this study. They are very invested in mercury/vaccine-autism causation. This summary of research they’ve funded through 2013 includes 55 references to mercury.
Laura Hewitson, author on the Hot Mess Monkey Study, is also an author on this PNAS paper. She is the research director at the Johnson Center for Child and Health Development, which is a revamp of Thoughtful House, former home to Andrew Wakefield. With these parties involved, it ought to be tough for those committed to the idea that the original Hot Mess Monkey Study was gospel to find a way to ignore this one.
Newsweek reports that the study found some changes in the brains of monkeys receiving vaccines.
SafeMinds argues that these changes all suggest a correlation between vaccination and autism. But as Alycia Halladay, chief science officer at the Autism Science Foundation, points out, these findings do not necessarily indicate anything about autism. “There are likely many biological effects that occur in an organism after a vaccine administration, but that doesn’t always mean it will cause autism,” she says.
Halladay commends SafeMinds for financially supporting the study, but she worries that some autism advocates may be asking the wrong questions. “I'm not saying that we need to stop funding research in the environment, because we know the environment does impact neurodevelopment,” she says. Halladay likens the challenge of disputing the claim that vaccines cause autism to “playing whack-a-mole.”
“First, the proposed association was between the MMR vaccines and autism,” she says. “Then that was disproven. Then it was the thimerosal components in vaccines; now that has been further disproven in a carefully designed animal model study that aimed to specifically examine that question. It has also been suggested that the association is because of vaccine timing, but that too has been disproven. The target always seems to be moving, and the expectation is that scientific resources will be diverted to address each new modification of this hypothesized link.”