No, There Still Is No Connection Between Vaccines and Autism

Bad Astronomy
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Aug. 27 2014 7:30 AM

No, There Still Is No Connection Between Vaccines and Autism

There's a conspiracy theory going around that the CDC covered up a link between autism and vaccines. From what I can tell, this conspiracy theory is on the same level as the one that NASA faked the Moon landings. And you know how I feel about that.

Perhaps you’ve heard about this CDC theory; it’s burning up on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. The gist of it is that a “whistleblower” at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has revealed some hanky-panky done by researchers there to cover up a link between vaccines and autism found in a certain group of babies, and a new analysis supposedly shows this connection.  

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It’d be a compelling story, if it were true. However, it appears very strongly to be false. Since I am not an expert in the specifics, I direct you to two posts: "Did a high ranking whistleblower really reveal that the CDC covered up proof that vaccines cause autism in African-American boys?" by Dr. David Gorski at Science Based Medicine, and “Andrew Wakefield Tortures History” at Harpocrates Speaks. These, together with links therein, show to my satisfaction why this conspiracy claim is more heat than light. As the first post by Gorski shows, the "new analysis" fails for multiple reasons, including using small numbers for statistics (a big no-no), applying statistics incorrectly, and not even employing an actual statistician for the analysis. There are other very serious problems as well, all of which are laid bare in those posts.

I'll note that the conspiracy theory is endorsed by Andrew Wakefield—called a fraud by the BMJ, guilty of scientific misconduct, and father of the modern anti-vaccine movement. That right there is enough for me to be extremely suspicious of it. Coupled with the evidence outlined above? Done.

philplait_vaccine
Me, putting my immune system where my mouth is.

Photo by Phil Plait

To be clear: Although it’s been tested over and again, no causal connection has ever been found between vaccines and autism … and it’s not just the CDC and other U.S. facilities that have worked on this; it's been an international effort.

Stuff like this used to make me really angry, but now it makes me sad. Diseases like measles, pertussis, chicken pox, and polio are dangerous, and they’re making a comeback, in no small part due to misinformation spread by anti-vaxxers

I know that many of the people making these claims are honest; they're speaking from their heart out of concern for their children. As a parent and a human being, I’m concerned about this as well. And that’s precisely why I write about the realities of vaccines: They are extremely effective, and their risk is incredibly small compared with their benefits. Conspiracy theories like this new one have the potential to do a lot of damage. Ironically, by avoiding vaccinations, the people it’s likely to hurt are the very ones their parents are trying to protect.

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!