Congress holds an anti-vaccination hearing

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I was in my car yesterday listening to C-SPAN (yes, I do that sometimes), when to my stunned surprise I heard Congressman Dan Burton launch into a diatribe on how mercury in vaccines causes autism.  No, this was not a replay of a recording from a decade ago.  The hearing was held just a few days ago by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


Congressman Burton used this hearing to rehash a series of some of the most thoroughly discredited anti-vaccine positions of the past decade.  Burton is a firm believer in the myth that vaccines cause autism, and he arrogantly holds the position that he knows the truth better than the thousands of scientists who have spent much of the past decade doing real science that proves him wrong.

In a classic political move, the committee called on scientists Alan Guttmacher from the NIH and Colleen Boyle from the CDC to testify, but in fact the committee just wanted to bully the scientists.  Committee members lectured the scientists, throwing out bad science claims, often disguised as questions, thick and fast.  Alas, Guttmacher and Boyle weren’t prepared for this kind of rapid-fire assault by pseudoscience.

Burton himself was the worst offender, offering anecdotes and bad science with an air of authority.  He stated bluntly:

“I’m convinced that the mercury in vaccinations is a contributing factor to neurological diseases such as autism.”

No, it isn’t.  Dozens of studies, involving hundreds of thousands of children, have found the same thing: there is no link whatsoever between thimerosal and autism, or between vaccines and autism.  And Burton went off the deep end with this:

“It wasn’t so bad when a child gets one or two or three vaccines… Mercury accumulates in the brain until it has to be chelated.”

Bang bang, two false claims in 10 seconds.  First he claims that mercury from vaccines “accumulates in the brain”, a statement with no scientific support at all. Then he claims that chelation therapy is the solution – a radical, potentially very harmful treatment that no sensible parent would ever force on their child.  Unfortunately, some quack doctors have experimented with chelation therapy on autistic children, despite that fact that it can cause deadly liver and kidney damage, and one of them caused the death of a 5-year-old boy in 2005.

Written By: Steven Salzberg
continue to source article at forbes.com

25 COMMENTS

  1. What does happen to mercury in the body? Does it accumulate anywhere if not the brain etc etc. ?  Is there literally no reason to be concerned about such a substance being introduced to an infant’s system? Don’t worry, I’m not believing the nutjobs, just curious. Maybe point me to your favourite article on the matter?

  2.  You get roughly the same amount of methylmercury (25 millionths of a gram) from one can of light tuna than you do ethylmercury (20 millionths of a gram) from a single vaccine. There are differences but not enough on the health risk side to make a distinction. There are vaccines in Canada that have half the amount of ethylmercury (10 millionths of a gram). There is no restrictions in Canada against pregnant women eating light tuna. If this argument needs to be waged at all, it should be against tuna, something we don’t really need, instead of vaccines, something that saves lives.

    There are a couple of comedians who do a skit on vaccines that I find illustrates well the rediculousness of the fear. I just can’t remember their names. I always see the names Ren and Stimpy but that’s not it. The one guy never speaks.

  3. Also, methylmercury accumulates in the body, while ethylmercury is excreted.

    I knew a woman who got mercury poisoning from tuna, but she ate a ton of tuna. Two-three cans a week over the course of a few years.

  4. I mostly like Salzberg’s piece, but one thing confused me; why don’t “observational studies” of differences between vaccinated and unvaccinated children count as “studies” of said differences?

    Thanks for that data, aquilacane. Are the quoted masses for the mercury alone or the molecules as a whole? Since ethylmercury is about 7 % more massive per molecule than is methylmercury, the number of mercury molecules in the vaccine will be lower than in the tuna either way, but I’m curious. (Plus ethylmercury is the less toxic of the two anyway). The conclusion, it seems, is that a vaccine is significantly safer than a single can of light tuna. (Do you know whether not-so-light tuna has even more methylmercury? I’d love to look at your sources.)

  5. I don’t think it can be considered as a scientific study as there is more than one variable involved. Not just vaccinated vs not vaccinated, but different children, in different environments, with different genes. So a legitimate study is actually impossible to do in this situation as it’s nearly impossible to determine what is causing the autism.

    Also correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the amount mercury used in vaccines reduced and even removed from some vaccines back in 1999? Yet autism rates didn’t drop.For those interested Penn and Teller did an episode of B.S. in season 8 about vaccinations.  Check it out on youtube.

  6. To Dan Burton and his other dopes in Congress who are listening to him : Mercury was TAKEN OUT OF VACCINES by 2001. That’s over a decade ago, but then, why would I think Burton can count when it’s also clear he can’t read?

  7.  I would guess they are for the mercury alone but I am no expert. I had a similar discussion and came across the information to make a very general risk comparison. Were the levels in the vaccine 4, 5 or even 20 time higher, the minimum exposure per year would still be less than someone who eats canned tuna every week.

    I probably should have mentioned this info was from a very limited amount of “online” research (if you can call it that). I identified light tuna because that is the type of tuna in which the mercury levels were tested. I don’t recall any data on other types of tuna but I’m sure it is out there and I would be surprised if it varied too much. I’m afraid I can’t forward any specific sources, though I may be able to find them again as I doubt there are too many to wade through.

    Basically however, on the surface, about five seconds of reading will dispel any fear of ethylmercury content, of course, they’ll just be scared shitless of tuna.

  8.  Thanks, much appreciated. It is funny how simple but full facts change the picture. Congress should actually  have a rule in hearings where experts can’t be interrupted and sources must be quoted, which would screw the politicians over completely of course. 

  9. V.S. Ramachandran, a well-known neuroscientist, hypothesizes that autism is a result of subtle but widespread congenital malformations and misconnections in the brain’s neuronal architecture, particularly in the so-called “mirror neurons”.  His book “The Tell-Tale Brain”  talks about this compelling research  (in layman’s terms) and the fascinating links he’s found between autism and various other organic brain disorders.  

  10. Mercury poisoning used to be common in Japan, where fish is a huge part of the diet.  I remember reading about it being a common cause of dementia and other neurological damage in elderly people who eaten large amounts of fish over their lives; a large number of long-term care residents were sufferers of mercury poisoning.  I don’t know if it is still a big problem; young people there tend eat a more Western diet with less fish.

  11. The only research I know that actually linked autism and MMR vaccinations was from the thoroughly discredited and now disbarred Andrew Wakefield who was found guilty of highly unethical practices ( he gave young children lumber punctures without supervision or ethical approval) and was fabricating his research, using a study of 12 already autistic children with no control group and had a badly contaminated lab.

    He was literally in the pay of an Autism charity and announced his results to an eager press before his ‘trial’ had even finished.
    The real villains of the piece were the British press who even after he was struck off by the GMC were still printing articles linking the MMR jab to autism. As we know, in the wake of this vaccinations fell off and herd immunity for measles became ineffective.
    However, whilst I am not trying to glorify the UK it is true that throughout the sh*tstorm of the media no British party sided with anti-vaccination, the MMR stayed in place and vaccination rates are rising again. I find it truly disturbing that politicians on the other side of the pond can publicly attack vaccinations and spread bad science, because those in power can obviously do the most harm.
    Is this a sign that America is continuing a slide away from science( because by their nature politicos generally bandstand to an audience) or am I panicking unnecessarily? I say panicking because I think it will all be the Western democracies that will suffer if that is a trend.  

  12.  

    The real villains of the piece were the British press who even after he
    was struck off by the GMC were still printing articles linking the MMR
    jab to autism.

    ..and as we see in the latest news, David (stooge-muppet) Cameron is trying to avoid giving independent press standards regulation the backing of law, and is consulting the news editors about giving them a seventh last chance to voluntarily regulate themselves properly!!

  13.  Wow, no one understands that there is a difference between eating a
    poison and getting injected with it? Your immune system is built to
    deal with digested toxins much better then them arbitrarily injected.

    Add to that I am unaware of any REAL studies done on Autism. What they
    did to discredit the Autism by Vaccine argument was DO BAD SCIENCE.
    They never studied UNVACCINATED populations. Pretty standard stuff
    here. Its like when the FDA finds that one drugs isn’t dangerous by
    comparing it to the rate of other drugs causing damage……hmmmmm.
    They get off by saying “Drug A doesn’t cause anymore
    deaths/defects/side effects then Drug B” when in reality they are
    comparing to alike things. When a drug is tested for effectiveness what
    is it tested against? A placebo right? A known “zero” factor. These
    vaccine studies never studied Autism rates in countries with no vaccine
    programs or in communities like the Amish. Why not? HMMMMMM. Bad
    science.

    Add to that there is mercury inside these Autistics…..where did it
    come from? Probably everyone exposure is increasing on a worldwide
    level and these children are particularly susceptible.

    Its moronic to talk about one kind of mercury being more toxic then the
    other. Sure relatively speaking, that is true. But you still arent
    going to convince me that ANY amount of ANY KIND of mercury is safe. It
    isn’t on any level and it never will be.

    By the way, this “crackpot” idea that mercury in vaccines causes Autism
    DID NOT ORIGINATE with “quack” parents and doctors.The CDC ITSELF
    brought this up and discussed it at the “Simpsonwood Meeting” in
    Norcross, GA, in secret. They tried to keep it a secret by continuing
    to block it from being Freedom of Information Acted. Anyone can find
    transcripts of this meeting online. Their OWN SCIENTIST discovered it
    USING THEIR OWN DATA.

    I have yet to see a single independent done study looking at Autism
    Rates in completely unvaccinated populations.

    Its well documented the scientific fraud going on between corporate/big
    pharma and “science.” Apparently you can get whatever science you want,
    as long as you pay for it and have enough scientifically illiterates to
    buy into it.

  14. NCHeathen
    Its moronic to talk about one kind of mercury being more toxic then the other. Sure relatively speaking, that is true. But you still arent going to convince me that ANY amount of ANY KIND of mercury is safe. It isn’t on any level and it never will be.

    By the way, this “crackpot” idea that mercury in vaccines causes Autism DID NOT ORIGINATE with “quack” parents and doctors.The CDC ITSELF brought this up and discussed it at the “Simpsonwood Meeting” in Norcross, GA, in secret. They tried to keep it a secret by continuing to block it from being Freedom of Information Acted. Anyone can find transcripts of this meeting online. Their OWN SCIENTIST discovered it USING THEIR OWN DATA.
    I have yet to see a single independent done study looking at Autism Rates in completely unvaccinated populations.

    Its well documented the scientific fraud going on between corporate/big pharma and “science.” Apparently you can get whatever science you want, as long as you pay for it and have enough scientifically illiterates to buy into it.

     

    Perhaps they had been foolish enough to use drinking water from rivers in the preparation or testing?

    http://www.rodale.com/mercury-… -  Every freshwater fish tested in a recently released United States Geological Survey (USGS) report contained some level of mercury, but more than a quarter of the tested fish were contaminated with mercury levels classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as unsafe to eat.

     

    Beware of any US homoeopathic remedies!! dangerous water!!!

  15.  Wow, I’m late to the show on my favourite-est of topics!

    NCHeathen, differences in toxic effect between ingestion and injection might simply be down to how completely (and how fast) absorbed a substance is across the gut wall, and whether it stays there or not. In the case of organomercuries (as mentioned by Kim Probable above) it is down to the volume of distribution – ethylmercury is transported readily back into the gut (which tends to chug along quite nicely day-to-day) whilst methylmercury distributes across all tissues so has a rather longer half-life in the body (50 days cf. ~a week). Since organomercury is readily absorbed, it doesn’t (in this case) matter if you ate it or injected it. In this sense it is not “moronic to talk about one kind of mercury being more toxic then [sic] the
    other” because you have acknowledged yourself that it is true, “relatively speaking”, and that must be accounted for in assessing biological effect. Whilst any mercury may not be beneficial, we all live in a world which is naturally contaminated – unless you plan on living on sunlight and reverse-osmosis water, you’re gonna have trouble dodging it all…

    I also wonder where you’re getting the idea that the immune system is necessarily involved in elimination of toxins? If you’re looking at metals particularly, many have specific or non-specific binding and transport proteins which handle their distribution and elimination – individual variation almost certainly would have a role to play here in the observed effect but that doesn’t have to involve the immune system. (Apologies if this seems like pedantry, but the distinction is important if one is to do something about it)

    Ok, bad science is putting forward a hypothesis and not backing it up with affirming evidence – it is not the job of those who reject ‘Autism by Vaccine’ to definitively prove a negative (since that can’t, strictly, be done).

    I take your point about drug companies touting A as ‘no worse’ than B. That is marketing, but it is also a real-world consideration. Any company could, in theory, produce a drug to do X but it doesn’t matter that it works if it works worse than the best existing drug to do X. Indeed, comparing to placebo and (sometimes) licensing for slightly different indications can be a dodge to avoid having to be compared directly to the competition.

    Comparison studies with unimmunised populations cannot be done just by chucking a large amount of money at the question – there are enough differences between the general population and those who choose not to vaccinate e.g. certain well-off, middle-class English hippy-types (socioeconomic), the Amish (genetic) and unreachables in the African bush (genetic/environmental/background medical care quality) to affect the comparative validity of any observational study you care to start as well as be a logistical nightmare. Not to mention the ethics of a randomised control trial (which you seem to be seeking) which involves of denying one half of a group of children immunisations that work to see if they develop a condition that may be mercury/immunity/other-related but conferred by something other than the immunisations…would you enrol your child in such a study?

    Technically, to be completely scientific, you’d have to agree to the 50:50 chance of your child being given an immunisation, even if you wouldn’t normally want them to…

  16. Jos Gibbons, forgive me, where does it say observational studies don’t count?

    biff64gc, observational studies can be scientific – you just have to acknowledge their limitations in showing causality. They can be useful in that control trials set up artificial conditions that go beyond the single-variable being studied – people might change other things they would normally do to accommodate the trial and this is a source of bias in itself. Cross-sectional studies compare differing populations of similar characteristics, longitudinal studies compare the same population over time whilst observing changes in input e.g. immunisation and outcome. Case-control studies look for different outcomes retrospectively and try to find what differed between them in the first place. I’ve already gone off on one about the difficulties of actually doing any of this ‘cleanly’ and it doesn’t address the fact that autism exists on a spectrum of varying severity. You’re absolutely right it doesn’t show what is causing autism, just that immunisations aren’t the likely culprit.

    The only immunisation I’ve seen in the last 5-ish years (in the UK) to contain mercury (specifically, thiomersal) was a multi-dose vial of Swine ‘Flu vaccine – since there were 3 people in my local Intensive Care with it at the time, I gladly accepted the risk in lieu of an extra can of tuna :P

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