Links between autism, vaccines, and pesticides
I know that we all have our own reasons why to vaccinate our children on schedule, do it more slowly than the AAP recommends, or not at all. Many of us know now that the scientific evidence linking rising autism rates to the thimerosal preservative (which contained trace amounts of mercury) has been discarded by nearly every public health professional.
Still, today's news that Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the author of the original (and since retracted) study linking autism to vaccines did not just create a bad study but "an elaborate fraud" is chilling. The British medical journal BMJ conducted an investigation, and the editor told CNN, "in this case, we have a very different picture of what seems to be a deliberate attempt to create an impression that there was a link by falsifying the data." The editorial revealing the results of the study said it had created a long-lasting deleterious effect on public health and, worse, "perhaps as important as the scare's effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it."
Speaking of those. No one (as far as I can tell) is calling pesticide exposure a definitive cause of autism -- perhaps the study has created a scientific-community-wide crisis of confidence. But I'm chilled by results of a 12-year study of migrant worker mothers and their children in Salinas, California, the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas project. Mothers who had the highest exposure to pesticides had children with poorer attention spans.
""We have very, very high reports by the mother of behaviors consistent with pervasive developmental disorder," UC Berkeley Public Health profession Brenda Eskenazi said in comments at a neurotoxicology conference. "These include signs like the child is afraid to try new things, can't stand anything out of place, and avoid looking others in the eye. This is considered to be autism spectrum behavior."
In my opinion, this is evidence that exposure to pesticides causes -- or at the very least contributes -- to pervasive developmental disorders. And no one is panicking yet or suggesting everyone through out all of agriculture and start over. But maybe that's because we've all become shy of pulling the trigger on causality, thanks to one doctor's inexplicable fraud.
Or, maybe not inexplicable. According to that BMJ editor, "It's always hard to explain fraud and where it affects people to lie in science. But it does seem a financial motive was underlying this, both in terms of payments by lawyers and through legal aid grants that he received but also through financial schemes that he hoped would benefit him through diagnostic and other tests for autism and MMR-related issues."
I don't think there's any statement that could sum up my feelings on that with sufficient disgust and disheartenment. Have you got one?