Friday, August 19, 2005

THE PLURAL OF ANECDOTE

There’s a pithy little saying I hear an awful lot in the debate over thimerosal; those who argue that science does not support a link between thimerosal and the development of autism spectrum disorders often recite it. When confronted with the combined and consistent experiences of so many families, these defenders of the official position (including Dr. Harvey Fineberg in his recent appearance on Meet the Press) recite the mantra that “the plural of anecdote is not evidence.” Their use of that rusty saw in this context ignores the fundamental nature of the scientific method.

I am not a scientist, but like anyone with any degree of education, I took science classes and learned about the scientific method. As I recall, the process begins with a step called “observation.” Based on observations, the inquirer forms questions and then a hypothesis. Then experiments are conducted to prove or disprove the hypothesis. Until the hypothesis is proven or disproved, further observations, including observations resulting from the experiments, may be made that may alter the hypothesis, leading to further experimentation. Anecdotes are observations.

Any rational person must accept that anecdotal data cannot stand as evidence to support a failed hypothesis (i.e., a hypothesis that has been definitively refuted). But the hypothesis that thimerosal plays a role in the development of genetically susceptible children has not yet been proven or disproved. The absurd notion that the epidemiological studies cited by the Institute of Medicine’s 2004 report disprove the thimerosal/autism hypothesis inflates the importance of epidemiology in determining biological causation. Moreover, the flawed methodology of those epidemiological studies renders them practically useless for the inquiry.

The late Carl Sagan coined a corollary to the plural-of-anecdote maxim: The absence of evidence does not mean the evidence of absence. The fact that the thimerosal/autism hypothesis not yet been proven means only that the process prescribed by the scientific method is ongoing. Until conclusions are made with some reasonable degree of certainty, my son and all the other anecdotes are still relevant.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Linda H. said...

Even IF the thimerosal isn't the root cause of the increase in autism, I think it's certainly another straw on the camel's back. For my son, the flu shot was the straw that broke his back. I think a better question to ask of the medical community is 'Is it safe to give a neurotoxin to my child with autism'? I'm pretty certain that hasn't been studied even though the CDC is pretty certain that 1 in 166 kids is autistic.

8/22/05, 8:43 AM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

Linda, I agree with what you are saying, at least for your son. For my son, that last straw came on the day he received his DPT, Polio, and MMR all on the same day. Was it the thimerosal; was it the live virus; was it a combination? We need a lot more study on the effects of thimerosal and vaccines in general. (As I’ve said before, I am NOT against vaccines; I just want to see us be a lot smarter about protecting our kids.)

I am learning that ASD does not lend itself to a one-size-fits-all approach to the issues of either causation or response. The discussion we are having here certainly shows that. But thimerosal seems to have played a pretty significant role in causation for many of our children, and biomedical treatments seem to be easing at least the biological problems for those children. Further study of thimerosal and biomedical treatments seems pretty reasonable to me.

In the meantime, regardless of any connection to autism, can we all agree that injecting mercury into the human body may not be such a great idea?

8/22/05, 11:41 AM  
Anonymous me said...

Mr Rankin there has been no autism epidemic.
Whatever caused autism in 1910, is the same thing that caused it in 1980 and the same thing that caused it in 1990. That's logic.

If the numbers stay the same then the cause must be fairlry stable. There may be a real increase, if there was it was small, otherwise it couldn't be explained by widening the criteria.

It makes no sense to blame your child's autism onto vaccines. It makes not sense at all.

The brains of autistics show specific development that is different from long before birth. Lots of disorders don't appear right from birth. Look at parkinson's. the brain degeneration is written in code ready to happen eventually. The brain overgrowth and other changes that happen to the few autistic children that regress 20 -25% can be set to happen long before birth and not be in need of a "trigger" like mercury, because kids who don't get vaccinated still regress. Even back when Dr. Down described regressive autism in 1887.
http://autismdiva.blogspot.com/2005/08/dr-treffert-real-good-guy.html

You are working with a bad definition of autism if you think that a poison is required to cause a regression and if you think a chelator is required to rewire the brain in a way that it is impossible to rewire. You can't change the density of the minicolumns or the connectivity between cortical regions that is found in autism with chelation.

You are being ripped off if you are using td dmps because it can not pass through skin.

If you are using td dmps, have your son's blood tested to see if there is dmps in it, have the testing done by a doctor who isn't making money off of selling dmps or otherwise recommending it.

If you do you will be the first person ever to have the results of such a test, isn't that exciting? Sorry for the sarcasm, but Buttar is such a liar and you are being sucked into his scheme if you are buying the td-dmps lie.

8/23/05, 1:09 AM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

Dear me,

I believe I should consider your comments to represent genuine, albeit anonymous, concern for the well being of my family. Assuming that to be the case, your good wishes are appreciated but wholly unnecessary.

Even most of the folks at the CDC seem willing to admit that the increase in numbers of autism are larger than a change in diagnostic criteria can account for. The science is still emerging, and causation related to vaccines or any other environmental factor is not yet determined with any reasonable degree of certainty. One thing, though, can be said; the epidemiological reports on which the 2004 IOM report is based are so flawed as to be determinative of nothing.

I make it a point not to discuss the specifics of the biomedical protocols we are using with our son; it opens the door to discussions that are just not that productive. In general, I will say that our choices were made after a lot of deliberation and consideration of all available data, including that which might shed an unfavorable light on any specific method.

Dr. Buttar and the use of TD-DMPS are almost as controversial within the biomedical community as outside. My overall impression is that the controversy has more to do with Dr. Buttar himself than it does the merits of DMPS as a chelator. Many fine physicians other than Dr. Buttar use TD-DMPS and have reported good results.

I have often heard the charge that TD-DMPS cannot penetrate the skin. As often as I have seen that repeated as gospel, however, I have yet to see any scholarly report on its effectiveness or lack thereof. I am aware, however, of anecdotal evidence (and as explained in this post, I am willing to flout convention by using those two words as a single phrase) that TD-DMPS produces positive results.

Please understand also that the purpose of chelation is not to “rewire” the brain. Rather, it is intended to remove a foreign substance that produces adverse biological effects that result in neurological symptoms. The extent to which the human brain can resume typical development and/or unfettered neurological function after chelation is unclear. Frankly, that uncertainty does not bother me much. I am less concerned with my son becoming “neurotypical” as I am with removing any obstacles he may have -- and now has -- to using all of his gifts to the fullest extent possible.

And don’t worry about the sarcasm. My skin’s a little too thick for me to be easily offended. Actually, I’m just thrilled that people are coming by to see what I’m writing. Your comments are welcome even when we don’t agree.

8/23/05, 8:44 PM  

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