The Autism-MMR scandal is the greatest scientific fraud in recent history. Last year the British Medical Journal revealed how Andrew Wakefield secretly worked for a lawyer to build a case to sue the makers of the MMR vaccine. Wakefield falsified a now retracted Lancet report on twelve children that he proposed suffered from autism as result of the MMR vaccine. Three of the children weren’t even ever diagnosed with autism and all of the children were recruited through an anti-MMR campaign funded by anti-MMR litigation. In essence the finding was to be predicted through simple statistics, autism is relatively common and all children are supposed to be vaccinated, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find twelve children with autism that were vaccinated.

The link is a classic case of illusory correlation, there is an increase in autism diagnosis that vaguely coincides with the introduction of the MMR vaccine. You could equally say that the increase in autism is a result of the introduction of the Euro, satellites or tetris. There is obviously no evidence for any of these claims but if you single out enough cases then some people will be convinced. The risk of illusory correlation is real now more than ever with the recent CDC report that 1 in 88 children (1 in 54 boys) have autism. According to the US National Institute of Mental Health (emphasis mine):

“The increase reported by the CDC might mean we are better at detecting children who meet criteria for ASD, but potentially we still are only halfway to the actual prevalence in the general population… Total population epidemiological studies suggest much or all of the increase is due to better and wider detection.”

US NIMH

Worryingly however the US NIMH report goes on to state:

“Studies of administrative and services data suggest that better detection cannot fully explain the profound and continuing increase… Our working assumption is that there are both more children affected and more detected.”

This brings us back to the table regarding possible factors contributing to the possible rise in autism but we are certainly not to back to square one. There is possibly a real increase in autism prevalence, there is still however no evidence that the MMR jab is responsible. I repeat, there is no evidence that the MMR jab is responsible. Just to clarify, twenty separate studies have demonstrated that there is no evidence for a link between vaccines and autism. There is no evidence to the contrary, not a sausage.

Thus far the impact of the misinformation has been mostly limited to Britain, however recently Donald Trump has for some reason taken it upon himself to misinform millions of Americans that vaccines are causing autism:

Donald Trump Autism MMR 650 The Anti Vaxxer Cheerleaders Posing A Serious Threat To The Herd

Trumps misinformed ramblings are reaching millions

Trump has of course provided no evidence for his crackpot claims. Concerned followers typing “MMR Autism” in to Google would be likely to click on one of the top results..

Autism MMR google 650 The Anti Vaxxer Cheerleaders Posing A Serious Threat To The Herd

Google's search rankings show different results to different people

Given the demographics that follow a pompous media courting fat-cat like Trump, it seems likely that many of the millions that will have read Trump’s tweets will skip over the BBC and Wikipedia links and land on the Daily Mail’s coverage or worse on to a serious anti-vaxxer crackpot’s site. This risk is heightened by the effect of Google filter bubbles which lead delusional paranoid types to delusional paranoid websites all too keen to profit from their stupidity.

Autism MMR Daily Mail 650 The Anti Vaxxer Cheerleaders Posing A Serious Threat To The Herd

The Daily Mail use SEO to shoot to the top of Google, above the scientific evidence

The Daily Mail does not actually cite any published research, as Ben Goldacre has reported, the “research” was in fact “a poster presentation, at a conference yet to occur, on research not yet completed, by a man with a well-documented track record of announcing research that never subsequently appears in an academic journal”. The Daily Mail remains the world’s most popular and most search engine optimised on-line news source. Trump’s claims have also been paroted by the Daily Mail’s US equivalent Fox News, the “most trusted” news source in America (that thud was the sound of my head hitting my desk) and quack heaven Natural News who line their story with “alternative” cures for everything from swine flu to aging to sell to the suckers who are unfortunate enough to land there.

Quack Central The Anti Vaxxer Cheerleaders Posing A Serious Threat To The Herd

Quack Central

It would be all too easy for us to say that those who listen to the likes of Trump, Fox, the Daily Mail and the quack brigade over the scientific evidence are liable to suffer through natural selection but there are two reasons we should avoid this stance. Firstly, the victims are children whose parents are being led astray. Secondly, the anti-vaxxers threaten the herd immunity of the whole of our species, causing infection, death and preventing eradication of disease.

Herd Immunity The Anti Vaxxer Cheerleaders Posing A Serious Threat To The Herd

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

The MMR scandal resulted in such a downfall in vaccine uptake that it directly led to a mumps epidemic and a measles endemic in the UK. It’s difficult to calculate the impact of Trump’s ramblings on global health. Trump has over a million followers, many of whom appear to be spreading his message with the added platform of Fox News. If over coming years we see US epidemics of diseases that are now well contained we will know who to blame.

Update: Yesterday a Media Matters study found that in 2011 ABC, CBS, NBC & FOX spent twice as much time covering Donald Trump as they spent on climate change.

Donald Trump climate change650 The Anti Vaxxer Cheerleaders Posing A Serious Threat To The Herd

References:

Deer B (2011). How the case against the MMR vaccine was fixed. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 342 PMID: 21209059 (PDF)

Chen W, Landau S, Sham P, & Fombonne E (2004). No evidence for links between autism, MMR and measles virus. Psychological medicine, 34 (3), 543-53 PMID: 15259839

http://www.nimh.nih.gov/about/director/2012/autism-prevalence-more-affected-or-more-detected.shtml

http://www.who.int/vaccine_safety/topics/mmr/mmr_autism/en/

http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/pages/communityimmunity.aspx

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  • Nervmusic

    Hi! I recently found your blog and I’m loving it 🙂

    I majored in Biotech Eng., and I’m studying a PhD in Biopharmacology. In a recent Immunology class the professor said that we don’t have a very clear understanding on the actual way adjuvants work. Also, when the swine flu scare happened I tried to find an accurate double-blind study about the vaccine but found none.

    Having studied first hand the ‘creative’ research done by pharmaceutical companies (SSRI’s), I cannot help but wonder if the risks of adverse effects to adjuvants are diminished in the reported literature.

    Without further independent research I think is not fair to put the doubt in vaccine’s safety in the same league as believing in homeopathy or some other quackery.

    • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

      Thanks for the kind words. Indeed, it’s absolutely right to be sceptical, what I am so strongly opposed to is how people are being misled by so many prominent utterly unsubstantiated claims. Google is awash with anti-vaxxers pushing complete nonsense – this isn’t scepticism, this is old fashioned cynicism. As you so rightly put it, we should always “wonder”, and indeed make the effort to find out. The anti-vaxxers acting as if they know when they don’t is my problem, I’ll always encourage *genuine* debate.

  • Soiaetmsos

    I think your piece is extremely biased and downplays the risks associated with giving newborn babies a whole bunch of shots. Surely the technology that is vaccines has been beneficial to society over time, but there is no reason why they have to contain dangerous ingredients like thimerosal and aluminum. When the CDC tells us that seizures are a “normal” side effect of vaccinating then we have a problem. While I don’t adhere to everything they say, sites like Natural News promote good health and nutrition, so what’s wrong with that? Several doctors have told me that during their time in med school they spent barely any time learning about nutrition – which is preventative. The amount of chemicals we are exposed to in food and water is troubling and it is having a harmful effect on society. It is not “kooky” to be concerned about such things. You should not be so quick to trust our fascist government and the companies they let exploit us, because when you do that you become part of the problem.

    • http://neurobonkers.com Neurobonkers

      The CDC do not tell us seizures are “normal” but that they occur in 1 in 2000-3000 children immunized under the age of 23 months with the influenza vaccine. Nearly all children recover quickly unlike young children who face influenza without vaccination. 
      http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Concerns/FebrileSeizures.html 

      Your points about thimerosal and aluminium have been dealt with broadly and thoroughly elsewhere so I won’t comment on them here, suffice to say they have both been demonstrated to be irrelevant distractions from the debate.

      There’s nothing wrong with being concerned, just please make the effort to understand the facts before reciting debunked claims such as thimerosal.

      • Julian Pursell

        1 in 2-3000? That’s scary. Maybe they need to start putting cannabidiol into vaccines to help to prevent seizure?

        Or would that be a bad idea? CBD binds to the  immune system, it could even interfere with the elegant interplay between vaccine and vulnerable child which causes autism lol.

  • Soiaetmsos

    Oh, and Donald Trump is an elitist piece of trash, Media Matters is trash and climate change (whether real or exaggerated) will never be dealt with properly in a corporatist system. You need to start getting beneath the surface a little and stop being such a biased political tool of the establishment.

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