Mercury As A Cause of Autism – More Denialist Junk “Science” from Pediatrics Journal

The journal Pediatrics published yesterday amid media hype a paper claiming to show that mercury in vaccines cannot be associated with causing autistic conditions in children: Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal From Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism.

The paper in fact provides no such evidence. The study compared cases of autistic children to control cases of children who did not have autistic conditions.  The problem is that both groups were from the same highly vaccinated population of US children.  Here are some examples of what this means:-

If cases of lung cancer are compared to a control population of only smokers without lung cancer, the authors of this study would conclude smoking does not cause lung cancer.

If cases of heart disease were compared to a control population of only obese people without heart disease the authors of this study would conclude that obesity and heart disease have no association.

If cases of flu are compared to a control population of all people who were exposed to flu virus but did not contract flu the authors of this study would conclude that flu virus does not cause flu.

US child health and vaccine safety advocacy organisation SafeMinds says on Age of Autism:-

Planning for this study began in 2001. Over the nine year study period, the large external panel of consultants providing input to the investigators was reduced to a small subset by study end. The original large panel recommended against the study design ultimately employed, as insufficient to answer the question of early thimerosal exposure and autism rates. The CDC and AHIP overruled the external consultants.

The study was meant to look for differences in exposure to vaccines to see if there was any association between having a different exposure and developing an autistic condition.  As both groups of children were highly likely to have similar exposure to vaccines from the outset, no difference in risk could have been detected. And the authors were told at the outset this was the wrong way to go about it but they went ahead.  Their results simply served to confirm what could have been predicted had no study been carried out:-

On average, case-children and control children had similar cumulative ethyl-mercury exposures at the end of each exposure period (Table 2).”

End of page 660-661 – “Prenatal and Infant Exposure to Thimerosal From Vaccines and Immunoglobulins and Risk of Autism”

And the US CDC under Julie Gerberding did exactly the same thing over the previous CDC funded genius study on exactly the same issue: “US Research Fraud, Tax Dollars And Italian Vaccine Mercury Study”.

Gerberding’s CDC funded a study of mercury exposure in Italian children knowing from the outset that the Italian children had received insufficient mercury for there to be detectable brain injury using current methods of investigation.  Internal CDC emails obtained under US Freedom of Information laws shows that the CDC knew that a dose of 75 ug mercury or less given to children by the age of four months was insufficient to cause an effect which could be detected.  The Italian children received by 3 months two thirds of the minimum [no more 37.5 ug].  By 4 months they had only three quarters of that minimum.

It was also Gerberding who walked straight in to the job of Director of Merck’s Vaccine Division last December – another job of vaccine sales person in chief for the drug industry.  And it was Gerberding also who confirmed in a US national TV interview one of the mechanism by which vaccines can cause autistic conditions:-

“… if you’re predisposed with the mitochondrial disorder, it can certainly set off some damage. Some of the symptoms can be symptoms that have characteristics of autism.“

HOUSE CALL WITH DR. SANJAY GUPTA – Unraveling the Mystery of Autism; Talking With the CDC Director; Stories of Children with Autism; Aging with Autism – Aired March 29, 2008 – 08:30 ET

That concerned the case of Hannah Poling [who had mitochondrial dysfunction - not mitochondrial disorder] – see also: Vaccination Causes Autism – Say US Government & Merck’s Director of Vaccines

The medical establishment and the drug industry continue to bury their heads – not in sand, but junk science, to cover over what they have been doing and continue to do to millions of children worldwide. Yet again, despite being documented in formally published papers, the authors failed to look in the right places.

See also today’s companion story:

Mercury & Autism – Naming and Shaming Dr Gorski & “Science Free Zone” Bloggers

It is known that children with autistic conditions have difficulty excreting mercury [some references below]. The mercury accumulates in their body tissues including the brain, unlike their non autistic counterparts.  Mercury is highly neurotoxic – in parts per billion.  Only infinitesimally tiny amounts can do significant damage to a developing infant brain.

Despite this being known and documented, the authors of this Pediatrics paper simply measured how much mercury went into all the children but not what did or did not come out.  No information was obtained about how much mercury the autistic children accumulated in their brains compared to the amounts excreted by the non autistic comparison group of children.   End result – another piece of hyped junk science.

The cases of autistic children were not matched with a comparable group of non autistic “control” children to enable a proper comparison to be made.  Yet the study was  supposedly a “case-control” study.  For the cases to be matched to controls it would be necessary to check the controls retained mercury in the same manner as the autistic cases.

The authors of the pediatrics paper not only did not address the issue of mercury accumulation in autistic children, they neither cited any published literature on the point nor did they attempt to discount this aspect of causation.  A complete and abject failure to pay lip service to “science” which wholly invalidates their paper.

This is typical of the quality of “science” to be expected from papers Pediatrics publish. We can now add yet another invalid study to the existing invalid studies purporting to be evidence vaccines and mercury containing vaccines do not cause autistic conditions in children.

If this Pediatrics study were on lung cancer, the famous epidemiologists Sir Richard Doll and Sir Austin Bradford Hill would laugh at it.  They first established the link between smoking and lung cancer.

It is fundamental in epidemiology to compare an exposed group to a properly selected control group to see if there is any difference between the groups. This Pediatrics study fails on all counts.

This study is the equivalent of taking all smokers and separating them into two groups – those who develop lung cancer and those who do not – and then claiming that as both groups have similar exposures to smoking, that smoking cannot cause lung cancer.

Some people smoke and develop lung cancer.  Some do not.

Some children have vaccines and develop autistic conditions.  Some do not.

A study like this one from Pediatrics would never show anything either way.

The study was funded via organisations with interests in disproving a causal association between vaccines and autism.  The funding was by grants from the US Centers for Disease Control to America’s Health Insurance Plans.  US insurers are not eager to meet the exceptionally high lifetime costs of care for autistic children.

Mercury accumulates in infant bodies as this study comparing the mercury content of milk teeth of autistic children to non autistic controls shows: Mercury, Lead, and Zinc in Baby Teeth of Children with Autism Versus Controls Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A, Volume 70, Issue 12 January 2007 , pages 1046 – 1051.

In comparison the excretion of mercury as tested in hair samples from infants showed that autistic children had lower levels of mercury excreted in hair than non autistic controls: Reduced Levels of Mercury in First Baby Haircuts of Autistic Children International Journal of Toxicology, July/August 2003; vol. 22, 4: pp. 277-285.

Infant monkeys exposed to the mercury compound thiomersal displayed a five times higher percentage of the total inorganic [metallic] mercury in the brain than monkeys exposed to methyl mercury (34% vs. 7%) and a slightly higher average brain-to-blood concentration ratio (3.5 +/- 0.5 vs. 2.5 +/- 0.3) Comparison of blood and brain mercury levels in infant monkeys exposed to methylmercury or vaccines containing thimerosalEnviron Health Perspect. 2005 Aug;113(8):1015-21.

A detailed summary of over 70 other papers documenting the association published by SafeMinds can be found here: Summary of Science Demonstrating the Harmful Nature of Mercury in Vaccines – 2009 SCIENCE SUMMARY UPDATE.

The association between mercury containing vaccines and the development of autistic symptoms in infant monkeys was also demonstrated in a peer reviewed paper accepted for publication and then withdrawn by the publisher following the UK General Medical Council decision on Dr Andew Wakefield and Professor Walker-Smith.  This was solely because Dr Wakefield was one of several named authors and not because of any criticism of the science.  Had his name not appeared, the paper would be in print in the identical journal today: Delayed acquisition of neonatal reflexes in newborn primates receiving a thimerosal-containing Hepatitis B vaccine: Influence of gestational age and birth weight. Neurotoxicology. 2009 Oct 2. [Epub ahead of print].

About Case Control Studies

There was no possibility from the outset of this Pediatrics study ever identifying an association between vaccination and autism. This is because all the controls and the cases had the same exposure.

A case-control study starts with an outcome or effect (lung cancer, heart disease) and a number of potential causative factors.

Cases are selected who have the outcome.

Risk factors are identified plus non-risk.

Controls are chosen who do not have the outcome and should match the cases closely on non-risk factors [eg. age, sex, race, income bracket, geographic area of residence].

The case and control groups are then compared to estimate the strength of association of each risk factor.

When studying heart disease, if all the cases were found to be overweight but none of the controls, that might result in an estimate of a high degree of association of being overweight with heart disease.

That requires a control group of mixed exposure to the risk – in other words a representative sample of the population ranging from the very thin to the clinically obese.

In this Pediatrics study all the controls were exposed to the same putative risk factor – organo mercury containing vaccines.

The end result could have been predicted from the outset without anyone carrying the study out.  The same result would be obtained for any study carried out in such a manner regardless of there being a causal association between the outcome and the potential risk factor.

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14 Responses

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by TannersDad, Age of Autism and Desmond Devlin, Andy Wakefield. Andy Wakefield said: CHS: Mercury as a Cause of Autism – More Denialist Junk Science from PEDIATRICS Journal http://tinyurl.com/372xuco http://fb.me/sPKtyOk6 [...]

  2. FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: Dr Marcy received honoraria for speaking for Merck and GlaxoSmithKline within the last 5 years and grant support for studies on Gardasil and ProQuad from Merck within the last 5 years; Mr Lewis received grant support
    from Medimmune, Sanofi Pasteur, Chiron, Wyeth, Merck, and GlaxoSmithKline; and Dr Bernal received research funding from the CDC, the National Institute of Mental Health, Health Resources and Service Administration, and Autism Speaks. The
    other authors have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.

  3. Thanks for this, and for John Stone’s checking on the potential conflicts of interest involved in the people behind the study (including, of course, the Pediatrics journal for supporting its advertisers).

    One caveat in this whole story: I think the autism community needs to pay attention as well to the effect on the foetus of mercury vapor from the mother’s amalgam fillings. The medical profession may well be more willing to concede a mercury/autism link if the community didn’t concentrate solely on the Hg in vaccines – and especially with the drawing down of a major amount of thimerosal in vaccines in the last decade (or actually, with stocks still being used up, more precisely the last half a decade). Yes, it’s still in most flu shots; and yes, it’s appalling that they support shooting mercury-laden shots into pregnant females (thus confounding the picture as to causality). But there is a case to consider dental amalgams, and that case needs to be researched with as much desire for answers as with the vaccine link. See autismcauses.info, eg.

  4. Agreed. Total body burden of mercury from all sources is being ignored.

    But also recheck this Pediatrics paper. It is not simply the financial ties. The paper is a fraud. All the controls were exposed to the same risk as the cases so you could never find any difference between cases and controls. This is not simply junk epidemiology it is a straight fraud. They have dressed this up in the paper to make it look like a proper study when it is not.

    Notice how they have added a huge list of named people as “acknowledgements” to add credibility when the study is not endorsed by those people. Safeminds have said so publicly.

    It is a double or triple fraud. Pediatrics journal is a bent as a nine dollar note.

    This is what Safeminds have said so far:-

    Planning for this study began in 2001. Over the nine year study period, the large external panel of consultants providing input to the investigators was reduced to a small subset by study end. The original large panel recommended against the study design ultimately employed, as insufficient to answer the question of early thimerosal exposure and autism rates. The CDC and AHIP overruled the external consultants.

  5. I don’t understand the objection you’re making here. If you’re complaining that given two children with everything else being identical you have a random smattering of autism, then you’re very misguided. That is the point of the control–if you are investigating a given substance to see if a given substance causes a certain condition, and after controlling for everything else you see that the exact same exposure to the substance shows up with both those who do and who don’t show the symptoms, shouldn’t one conclude that there isn’t a relationship between the substance and the symptoms? The analogy to lung cancer also seems to be quite faulty–you are correct to suggest that you must assign a causal link first, but they way you do that is to compare groups with identical exposure and see if you can determine if there is a relationship between exposure or not. This study seems to do exactly that–it provides what your lung cancer epidemiologists would have done. It looked for the link, but found that at identical doses there was no pattern suggesting that all children exposed to that sort of dose should get autism just based on that dose.

    I’m perfectly happy if I’m in the wrong here and missing something, but there seems to be some obvious holes in your logic here.

  6. This study is like taking 100 people into a hay field and concluding that pollen does not cause hay fever because some develop hay fever symptoms and some do not.

    In a case control study controls are meant to be selected who 1) do not have the disease, 2) irrespective of exposure.

    In a vaccinated population controls will always be likely to have the same exposure as cases. That is known before the study is undertaken. The outcome is predetermined.

    The only way to carry out a study is to compare rates of autistic conditions in vaccinated populations with rates in unvaccinated populations.

  7. “In a case control study controls are meant to be selected who 1) do not have the disease, 2) irrespective of exposure.”

    Read the paper again, 1) they didn’t (7 were eliminated from the case control group because of potential autistic tenencies)
    2) exposure was not a selection criterion.

    The study is perfectly valid looking for different dose response characteristics to thiomersal in the autistic & control groups.

    Your hay fever analogy is incorrect unless you examine for dose related effects.

    You commented elsewhere it’s like looking for the effect of smoking & lung cancer with a control group of non-cancer smokers, no it’s not because you would quickly demonstrate there was a dose effect relationship, the more you smoke, the younger you start the more likely you are to contract cancer.

    Its a perfectly valid study demonstrating no dose or temporal effect of thiomersal on the development of autism

  8. You miss the point.

    The entire population from which cases and controls came from had the same exposure from the outset. It was a highly vaccinated population. It would have been impossibly difficult to select cases and controls which did not have the same exposure.

    This is not like taking cases with heart disease and comparing their obesity with a sample representative population to see if they are more obese or have the same level of obesity to decide if there might be an association between obesity and heart disease.

    You can fool all me of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time – and the latter group is clearly the one the US CDC and this study authors have been concentrating on.

    Don’t bother coming back John. Not everyone is that stupid.

  9. Huum, so Clifford/John by the absence of a response I guess you’ve agreed that the control children were selected blinded to their exposure to thiomersal & that the controls were non-autistic, so moving on….
    Let’s look at Table 2, see the wide spread of thiomersal exposure in the ASD children and the Control children, mean, minimum & maximum values very similar (please note there were children with ZERO exposure in both control & case cohorts) so in one sense you’re right, the SPREAD of thiomersal exposure was very similar in both cohorts but the exposure was widely, (& similarly), distruted for all children within age bands between the case and control cohort populations, more than enough data to have demonstrated an exposure/autism relationship if one had existed but it didn’t.

    Table 2 just nails the nonsense of the SafeMinds response, there was a wide range of thiomersal exposures in the autistic and non-autistic populations, and the distributions were very similar in both populations.

    To use your simplistic example Clifford of obesity & heart disease, you would select the control non-heart attack population blind to their obesity and it would become pretty clear that obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, obesity is the blinded variable in your example, thiomersal exposure was the blinded variable used in the paper

  10. [...] can be turned into a protective effect is nothing compared to what childhealthsafety does in his criticism of the study: It is known that children with autistic conditions have difficulty excreting mercury [some [...]

  11. “Occam” you are trolling just as you do on other forums. You get a response. Ignore it. Pretend you have not seen it and then go on to post more as if there was no reply.

    You @ 10:25:-

    “…by the absence of a response I guess you’ve agreed that the control children were selected blinded to their exposure to thiomersal”

    but @ 09:21 you had a response

    “You miss the point.

    The entire population from which cases and controls came from had the same exposure from the outset. It was a highly vaccinated population. It would have been impossibly difficult to select cases and controls which did not have the same exposure.”

    It is ridiculous to suggest there was any “blinding”. The authors did this with their eyes wide open.

    We will have little difficulty banning you.

  12. “Thimerosal Accumulates in Rat Brains, Study Reveals” -

    “Researchers at the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology of the Nervous System, Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, Warsaw, Poland, published the results of their study, Neonatal administration of a vaccine preservative, thimerosal, produces lasting impairment of nociception [pain sense] and apparent activation of opioid system [controls pain, reward and addictive behaviors] in rats in Brain Research, Volume 1301, 16 November 2009, Pages 143-151.”

    “THIM[EROSAL] injections accumulates in the rat brain in significant amounts and remains there longer than 30 days after the injection.”

    _________________________________________
    Brain Res. 2009 Dec 8;1301:143-51. Epub 2009 Sep 9.
    Neonatal administration of a vaccine preservative, thimerosal, produces lasting impairment of nociception and apparent activation of opioid system in rats.

    Olczak M, Duszczyk M, Mierzejewski P, Majewska MD.

    Department of Pharmacology and Physiology of the Nervous System, Institute of Psychiatry and Neurology, Warsaw, Poland.
    Abstract

    Thimerosal (THIM), an organomercury preservative added to many child vaccines is a suspected factor in pathogenesis of neurodevelopmental disorders. We examined the pharmacokinetics of Hg in the brain, liver and kidneys after i.m. THIM injection in suckling rats and we tested THIM effect on nociception. THIM solutions were injected to Wistar and Lewis rats in a vaccination-like mode on PN days 7, 9, 11 and 15 in four equal doses. For Wistar rats these were: 12, 48, 240, 720, 1440, 2160, 3000 microg Hg/kg and for Lewis: 54, 216, 540 and 1080 microg Hg/kg. Pharmacokinetic analysis revealed that Hg from THIM injections accumulates in the rat brain in significant amounts and remains there longer than 30 days after the injection. At the 6th week of age animals were examined for pain sensitivity using the hot plate test. THIM treated rats of both strains and sexes manifested statistically significantly elevated pain threshold (latency for paw licking, jumping) on a hot plate (56 degrees C). Wistar rats were more sensitive to this effect than Lewis rats. Protracted THIM-induced hypoalgesia was reversed by naloxone (5 mg/kg, i.p.) injected before the hot plate test, indicative of involvement of endogenous opioids. This was confirmed by augmented catalepsy after morphine (2.5 mg/kg, s.c.) injection. Acute THIM injection to 6-week-old rats also produced hypoalgesia, but this effect was transient and was gone within 14 days. Present findings show that THIM administration to suckling or adult rats impairs sensitivity to pain, apparently due to activation the endogenous opioid system.

    PMID: 19747466 [PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]

  13. Huum rats jumping on a hot plate, very impressive, but lets just check the dose they received over a 8 day period compared to the doses recorded in the paediatrics paper.

    Maximum accumulated dose in a 20 month baby was 300mcg, said baby typically weighs 10Kg, so that’s 30mcg/Kg administered over 20 month period.

    The “Lewis” rats lowest dose at 54mcg/Kg administered over 8 days noway replicates this, with the Wistar rats there was only 1 dose lower than the maximum human dose, and again over 8 days, not 20 months.

    You’ll have seen in Table 2 that the maximum dose in a 1 month old baby was 50mcg, in a 3 Kg neonate 17mcg/Kg. the pharmacokinetics just aren’t equivalent.

    [ED: You are of course right. Studies like this are undertaken solely for the pleasure of poisoning and torturing laboratory animals under controlled conditions. They are not undertaken to demonstrate physiological effects for the purposes of informing and adding to the evidence base for the furtherance of understanding of medical knowledge and likely effects in humans.

    This is the same reason great expense and effort is incurred in forcing beagles to smoke cigarettes or testing household products on all manner of laboratory animals in higher doses than would be experienced by humans in single contacts. It has nothing to do with demonstrating a likely toxicological effect on humans.

    You are trolling on this site as you have done on others and this demonstrates it yet again.]

  14. Hi,

    I keep thinking about this study and one important issue. Here the case enrollment process:

    “Potential case-children were identified by searching the MCO computerized records for relevant ASD International
    Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, codes (299.0-ASD or 299.8-PDD NOS), supplemented by text-string searches at 1 MCO, and text strings and autism registries at another.”

    I am trying to understand whether the potential 802 cases (fig. 1) came from all 3 MCOs or just one, or else? Does anyone know?

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