$315 Million For “Boobs and Woo”?

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

The Huffington Post (HuffPo) was recently acquired by AOL for $315 million, $300 million of it in cash. That’s a lot of money for what’s been called “the Journal of Boobs and Woo.” The boobs are OK, the woo is not. In a recent David Kirby article, The Autism-Vaccine Debate: Why It Won’t Go Away, HuffPo keeps up the woo part. The short answer: because opportunists like Kirby have teamed with believers in the cult of pseudoscience to keep this manufactured controversy alive whenever it starts to fade.

In the article, Kirby defends the irresponsible and dishonest Andrew Wakefield.

Andrew Wakefield, in a 1998 paper published in The Lancet, claimed a causal connection between the mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism. The claims were fraudulent, and Wakefield was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U.K., and The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s 1998 paper.

He had since moved to Austin, Texas, to be the founding “scientific director” of a house of autism quackery known as Thoughtful House. After his fraud made headlines, he resigned from was pushed out of his position at Thoughtful House.

Wakefield is also defended by pseudo-celebrities like Jenny McCarthy of the autism advocacy group, Generation Rescue.

The fact that HuffPo would defend such a pariah is the reason I stopped visiting that site. However, Lindsey Lohan has brought me back.

H/T: Respectful Insolence.

38 thoughts on “$315 Million For “Boobs and Woo”?”

  1. Robert J. Krakow:

    Gallagher and Goodman. Hepatitis B triple series vaccine and developmental disability in US children aged 1-9 years. Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry (2008) vol. 90 (5) pp. 997-1008
    Found association between Hepatis B and autism using the NHANES CDC database.

    Autism causation and the Hepatitis B vaccine: no link

    The top right graph shows the number of HepB vaccines for autistic kids (solid line) and non-autistic kids (dotted line). They are, to all intents and purposes, the same.

    Take a look at the birth dose. Not every kid got it. Maybe about 1/2 got the birth dose at birth, and about 2/3 got it within the first few days.

    If the birth dose of HepB caused autism to any significant degree, I would expect to see a higher percentage of autistic kids than non-autistic kids getting that shot. It just didn’t happen.

  2. Robert J. Krakow:

    Gallagher and Goodman. Hepatitis B Vaccination of Male Neonates and Autism Diagnosis, NHIS 1997-2002. J Toxicol Environ Health Part A (2010) vol. 73 (24) pp. 1665-77

    Found association between Hepatitis B and autism using the National Health Interview Survey 1997–2002 data sets.

    Another weak study “proves” vaccines cause autism

    I am constantly amazed at the low level of proof people use to demonstrate that vaccines cause autism.

    What did they do? They looked at data from the National Health Interview Studies, and looked at autism and hepatitis B vaccination. They used surveys from 1997 to 2002, with children aged from 3 to 17.

    The autism group had 33 kids total. Of these, 9 of 31 (29%) were given the HepB vaccine. Compare this to 1,258 of 7,455 (17%) of the non-autism group who were given the HepB.

    9 out of 31.

    Are the red flags up yet? They should be.

    Take for example kids aged 17 in the 1997 survey. When were they born? That’s right, 1980.

    When was the Hepatitis B vaccine introduced? 1991. According to Mr. Kirby himself, the HepB vaccine didn’t get fully implemented until about 1996.

    A lot of the kids were born before the “epidemic” of autism. No one disputes that the number of people identified with autism has gone up significantly in the last 30 years.

    So, pretty much anything that changed in that time would “correlate” with autism.

  3. To a commenter:

    I agree that there are varying problems with vaccines alone and in combination, not just the MMR vaccine. Please note, however, that a live virus vaccine such as MMR (also Varivax and others) cannot contain thimerosal as thimerosal would inactivate the attenuated live virus. MMR has never contained thimerosal and the mechanism by which it causes vaccine injury and autism symptoms is different from the way it is proposed that thimerosal (mercury) causes damage.

    A very recent study from researchers in Egypt has corroborated 2004 findings (later confirmed by an MIT study) that an inability to excrete mercury is associated with autism. Here is the citation:

    Elsheshtawy et al. Study of some biomarkers in hair of children with autism. Middle East Current … (2011)

    Robert J. Krakow

  4. To James M.:

    “I just read the first few pages of that HuffPo article, and it is awful. Continuing to propagate misinformation using anecdotal evidence to “question” scientific studies is bullshit.”

    I respectfully disagree with your opinion. It is anecdotal evidence that precedes the developmental of a hypothesis. If thousands of parents report abrupt and significant regression of children temporally proximate to the administration of vaccines this is not a trivial matter to be demeaned as “anecdote” and dismissed. Sworn testimony is also in the category of “anecdote” but courts rely on this every day to make important decisions. Epidemiology based on population level statistics can easily be manipulated to arrive at a targeted result. Even then, there are statistical studies showing an association between vaccines and autism.

    More importantly and to your point – where are the studies showing that there is no association between vaccines and autism. Most of the statistical studies are inconclusive or have major methodological flaws.

    Robert J. Krakow
    Conflict: I represent petitioners in vaccine court and have a pending claim there

  5. I goota say … I seldom read Huff … usually only do so if someone here has highlited a link.

    I remember years ago when she started appearing on every lib show she could find talking about her change from conservative to liberal and pushing her “new” blog asking every host to please come and post on her site.

    Having experienced several “e-business” start ups that existed simply to be sold for profit at a later date, I was skeptical about this born-again liberal and her “new” blog.

    Well, well, well … $300 million in cash … what a surprise …

  6. To Nal,

    After the Public Health Service and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended (not mandated) removal of thimerosal from vaccines in 1999 it was slowly removed by industry. As late as 2004 or 2005 according to the FDA many vaccines still contained the full complement of thimerosal (25 micrograms.)

    Today, most flu shots contain the full amount of 25 micrograms of thimerosal.

    Most vaccines still contain a reduced amount of thimerosal – about 1 microgram – but are not thimerosal or mercury free. You will read and hear that these vaccines are “preservative free” because thimerosal is not used in these vaccines as a preservative. But since thimerosal is still used in the manufacturing process some remains in the vaccine that is injected in your child. This can be problematic for individuals sensitive to mercury.

    Besides the flu shot some vaccines administered to adults contain the full 25 micrograms of thimerosal.

    I hope this helps.

    Robert J. Krakow

  7. David Drumm may think the matter is settled but the science is not close to being conclusive on the subject of vaccine injury and autism. With regard to the issue of vaccine injury even Jonathan Turley’s institution (G.W. Law School – I am a 1979 alumnus as well) operates a vaccine injury clinic that provides representation for petitioners pursuing claims for vaccine injury, some of which manifest as autism. Thousands of individuals have been compensated for vaccine injury in this program. At least 20 published decisions from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program report that children with vaccine injury manifest autism as a feature of their neurological disorders. While there are many causes of autism there is no research that excludes autism as a manifestation of vaccine caused encephalopathy (brain injury). Even former NIH head Bernadine Healy has criticized those very quick to dismiss the vaccine-autism link based on inadequate research.

    A comment above contained a quote from Hviid of the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark. There are serious methodological flaws in this study as well as Hviids’s study on thimerosal. The rate of autism in Denmark is 10% of the rate in the United States. The U.S. study of the primary U.S. database was inconclusive regarding a link according to statement published in a letter to Pediatrics by Verstraeten, at the time a CDC researcher and now a Glaxo employee. (It should be noted that Statens Serum Institut is a vaccine manufacturer and the director of the epidemiological research project that conducted this research – Poul Thorsen – is wanted for questioning by Danish authorities for allegedly stealing millions of dollars in research money that was intended for Aarhus Universitet from the U.S. CDC).

    The following are but a sample of the studies that have established a link between vaccine injury and autism:

    Gallagher and Goodman. Hepatitis B Vaccination of Male Neonates and Autism Diagnosis, NHIS 1997-2002. J Toxicol Environ Health Part A (2010) vol. 73 (24) pp. 1665-77
    Found association between Hepatitis B and autism using the National Health Interview Survey 1997–2002 data sets.

    Gallagher and Goodman. Hepatitis B triple series vaccine and developmental disability in US children aged 1-9 years. Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry (2008) vol. 90 (5) pp. 997-1008
    Found association between Hepatis B and autism using the NHANES CDC database.

    Young et al. Thimerosal exposure in infants and neurodevelopmental disorders: An assessment of computerized medical records in the Vaccine Safety Datalink. Journal of the Neurological Sciences (2008) vol. 271 (1-2) pp. 110-118
    Found an associatin between thimerosal in vaccines and autism using the CDC Vaccine Safety Datalink database. (same Database used by Verstraeten et al.)

    Desoto and Hitlan. Sorting out the spinning of autism: heavy metals and the question of incidence. Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars) (2010) vol. 70 (2) pp. 165-76
    Review paper by researchers who found association between blood mercury levels in children and autism, correcting errors in earlier research.

    Hewitson et al. Influence of pediatric vaccines on amygdala growth and opioid ligand binding in rhesus macaque infants: A pilot study. Acta Neurobiol Exp (Wars) (2010) vol. 70 (2) pp. 147-64
    Comparison between primates given vaccines and controls who were not vaccinated. Vaccinated primates showed neurological deficits.

  8. Nal,
    thanks for this story. Autism is a growing problem. I was especially glad that you published the correction that vaccines do not contain thimerosal. I looked into that recently when my daughter expressed concern of getting my youngest grandson vaccinated. If there is solid evidence of the FDA being incorrect, I would like to see it because if the FDA is wrong or intentionally misrepresenting the facts, we all need to know.

  9. Tony C.:

    Vaccines contain unnecessary mercury.

    Not according to the FDA:

    Since 2001, all vaccines manufactured for the U.S. market and routinely recommended for children ≤ 6 years of age have contained no thimerosal or only trace amounts (≤ 1 microgram of mercury per dose remaining from the manufacturing process), with the exception of inactivated influenza vaccine.

  10. I just read the first few pages of that HuffPo article, and it is awful. Continuing to propagate misinformation using anecdotal evidence to “question” scientific studies is bullshit.

  11. Tony C.,

    You articulate your position very well, but I don’t see you citing any studies that support your “observable facts”.

  12. @NAL: As would be expected, if the autistic problem is the elimination of mercury: The amount of mercury in the single dose of the MMR vaccine is very small, trying to pin the problem on that one vaccine is like trying to find the raindrop responsible for the flood.

    Scientifically speaking, as a research scientist myself, he is narrowly correct: The MMR vaccine alone cannot be shown to be responsible by itself, by any statistical method I know of.

    Measuring the total heavy metal exposure of a child CAN, however, be shown to correlate extremely well with first diagnosis dates. We can also objectively measure the extent to which children can eliminate heavy metals, and note that the less capable they are, the more likely they are to be autistic.

    So the matter is not “scientifically settled” except in the narrowest possible sense, and Hviid’s dismissal of these observable facts does harm to both autistics and their parents and caregivers.

    Vaccines contain unnecessary mercury. 99% of us eliminate it without effort. 1% do not, and it accumulates, and (along with other heavy metals in pollutants) produces mercury poisoning and abnormal neural development.

  13. Nal, thanks for that link…I don’t have time to read it now but will….I don’t know who that guy is or what his database was…but I still don’t think that statement closes the argument or the questions…he studied 1 aspect of the correlate. My take is mostly about why people have to suffer for so long and incur so much damage before the ‘authorities’ deign to respond with reasonable action? A lot of credibility has been lost in this past decade for me….I now question everything to the max….much like those families….’non responsive’ has more than just a legal definition…

  14. Woosty’s:

    I don’t see the ‘woo’. After reading the article I see pretty clear evidence of people’s concerns not being addressed as much as they are being defended against. Even the CDC does not address the issue directly but seeks to convince that an ingredient is ‘safe’

    The Vaccine War

    “Scientifically, I think the matter is settled,” says Anders Hviid, an epidemiologist at the Statens Serum Institut in Denmark. In one of the largest and most comprehensive epidemiological studies available, Hviid and colleagues analyzed data on more than a half million children and found no link between the MMR “triple shot” for measles, mumps and rubella and an increased rate of autism

    “Scientifically, I think the matter is settled” That addresses the issue directly.

  15. Regardless of Andrew Wakefield’s personal failings, his claim brought real science to bear that details a link between vaccines and autism.

    There are four major points of evidence for this.

    1) First baby haircuts.
    2) Variation linked to environmental mercury.
    3) Genetic markers.
    4) Chelation disparities.

    The hypothesis: A current hypothesis with scientific support is that autistic children have immune systems with one particular form of incompetence: They fail to recognize a particular variety of heavy metals (which includes mercury and lead), thus these accumulate in their brain and body and lead to poisoning and mental disability. Just as normal would experience if subjected to unsafe doses of these metals.

    Vaccines, to reduce the cost of production by a factor of about 10, contain thimerosal, which is about 49% mercury. The amount is vanishingly small, and for the vast majority of people and children the immune system recognizes the mercury and transports it to the nearest garbage can (hair, nails, skins, tears, sweat, saliva, feces, urine, etc).

    1) In the International Journal of Toxicology, 2003, Holmes and Baxill measure the amount of mercury in the cut hair of newborns. This should be related to the amount of mercury consumed by the mother (in fish, vaccines, and environmental exposure) and environmental mercury in the area, both of which are measured. For normal children and their mother, these are highly correlated and the mercury is present. For autistic children, there is nearly zero mercury in their hair, regardless of the amount of mercury in their mother’s hair or blood, sibling’s hair, or environment.

    This lack of mercury suggests the autistics are incompetent at eliminating mercury. So it builds up in their system. Vaccines preserved with thimerosal directly inject mercury into their bloodstream; by the time a child is two (in America) the amount of mercury injected into their bloodstream is about 20 times what the EPA considers a toxic dose. Again, for normal children, each of these is eliminated within about two weeks.

    (2) Autism rates among children are significantly and largely correlated to the amount of mercury in their local atmosphere, which varies greatly based on local industry. The higher the mercury, the greater the rate of autism.

    (3) There is at least one well-identified and observable genetic mutation in the immune system that interferes with its ability to recognize heavy metals, including mercury. This mutation occurs in autistic children far more often than chance. It does not occur in all autistics, and not all people with this mutation are autistic — There may be other ways for elimination to proceed, and there may be other causes of autism (the fact that we call it a “spectrum disorder” suggests we don’t understand it well, it could be an amalgam of unrelated diseases with similar symptoms, which is my own opinion).

    (4) “Chelation” is a technique of introducing a chemical that aids the immune system: There are many molecules to choose from, but the general idea is to think of the molecule as a dumbbell: On one side it has a group of atoms that can bind to a heavy metal, like mercury, and on the other end of the stick displays something the immune system can recognize as refuse. The immune system transports the refuse to the garbage, and unwittingly carries the metal with it.

    When autistic children are chelated, they often eliminate many times the heavy metals of a full grown adult being chelated (including members of their family living with them, which we can use as controls). This further suggests they are immuno-compromised in the elimination of heavy metals; and it is accumulating in their tissues.

    Disclosures: I have never worked with Thoughtful House, I do not know Andrew Wakefield. From what I can tell, and this is just my opinion, Wakefield stumbled upon a legitimate link between vaccination and autism, and made a conscious decision to exploit this link for personal gain. The result has damaged the science of autism, not helped, because what IS a legitimate topic of study is now derisively and emotionally dismissed as if it cannot possibly have anything to do with the problem.

    I personally believe a lot of the autism is linked to heavy metal elimination difficulties; there is sensible and reliable scientific evidence for that, independently duplicated.

    That evidence does implicate “vaccines,” not because of the vaccination process, but because of the preservative: Thimerosal. The vast majority of studies claiming zero connection are flawed, because they are not designed (statistically speaking) to find a signal that occurs in just 1% of their study population. The 1% of children incapable of proper elimination may not even be in their study, and if averaged with 99 normal children, may just disappear in the noise.

    Finally, thimerosal is only necessary for cost-cutting purposes; it reduces the cost of packaging vaccines (in multi-dose vials) by a factor of about 10. Single use, single dose vials in hermetically sealed packages do not require thimerosal, but ultimately pharmaceuticals are making a profit-driven decision by continuing the use of thimerosal.

  16. Really like alternative medicine if that is what you are calling “woo”.~Swarthmore Mom

    No, that wasn’t my first thought….I was thinking more like ‘misinformation, cloudy information, speculation in the guise of….stuff….BUT, don’t you think the move to ‘mainstream’ what was once thought of as alternative medicine is interesting? I think another aspect of woo is the push to legitimize everything through profit or financial worth. This is the culture of exploitation. Much of what many call ‘alternative’ is actually quite credible….

    (and unfortunately coming soon to a corporation near you!)

    (sorry to go off on the tangent but SIZE does not necessarily equal CREDIBILITY) 😉

  17. Really like alternative medicine if that is what you are calling “woo”. Need to move to Austin. Get tired of reading Huff Po’s latest article about which Kardashian got new implants. I wonder how much of this 300 million Ariana pocketed. She was once married to a Texas oilman who moved to California.

  18. I don’t see the ‘woo’. After reading the article I see pretty clear evidence of people’s concerns not being addressed as much as they are being defended against. Even the CDC does not address the issue directly but seeks to convince that an ingredient is ‘safe’ http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/thimerosal/thimerosal_faqs.html

    The articles paragraph ‘Another good example is Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D, current Director of the NIH. “Recent increases in chronic diseases (like) autism cannot be due to major shifts in the human gene pool. They must be due to changes in the environment” and other factors, he told Congress in 2006. … ‘ points out what has been going on as long as I can remember, a problem is identified and those who speak rationally, cautiously,reasonably are ignored and the BP’s and like minded pharmaceutical companies are allowed to run amok. Check this blog for further insight: http://www.md-writer.com/blog/?tag=corporate-malfeasance

    Why should people trust agencies and systems that routinely serve them up as petri dished for the priveledged?
    Why should people trust agencies, systems and governments that routinely hold those who are harmed to a higher standard than they hold themselves or those that do the harm?

    As far as the ‘woo’ goes…well there certainly is a lot of woo out there these days…………

  19. Whats is that going to do with the quality of reporting from AOL…..snickering….I am….

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