A few weeks ago, I posted this entry about the anti-vaccine claims of one Dr. Rashid Buttars, quoting my response comment to his blog. Well not only has he responded to me on his blog but he’s done so in a 5-part, presumably 50-minute video. I suspect he doesn’t get many commenters to his page, at least not ones critical of his fringe positions. I’d hate to see him make videos refuting hundreds of critics a day. The following is my point-by-point response to his first video. I haven’t yet listened to the others as he made a lot of fallacious and erroneous claims in just the first ten minutes. Let’s begin:
First, before the video, Dr. Buttar writes a little introduction where he refers to this blog as “some sort of Tabloid “News” type blog.” Now that’s fine. I understand that he probably hasn’t taken a lot of time to really look at other entries, so he might not know what it’s about. But I would argue that this blog clearly focuses mostly (though not exclusively) on critical thinking, science news and editorial. Now if Dr. Buttar is using the word “tabloid” to mean “a newspaper this size concentrating on sensational and lurid news, usually heavily illustrated,” (dictionary.com). then fine. Guilty as charged. But I’d argue that most modern blogs fit this definition, with varying degrees of illustration. Lately, I’ve tried to incorporate more illustration in my blogs because it’s easier to find stories of interest this way and it looks better on the page. Though I tend to use only 1 image or video per story, no more than we typically see in a regular newspaper. But it’s unclear whether this is what he means by tabloid or if this is meant to imply I’m guilty of “yellow journalism.” Now Wikipedia defines “yellow journalism” as:
“Yellow journalism is journalism that downplays legitimate news in favor of eye-catching headlines that sell more newspapers. It may feature exaggerations of news events, scandal-mongering, sensationalism, or unprofessional practices by news media organizations or journalists.”
I think it’s clear I don’t downplay legitimate news in favor of eye-catching headlines and I’m not selling anything but my opinion. Whether this blog is scandal-mongering or sensational people can judge for themselves. I personally don’t think so. As I said, I tend to focus on science news and opinion. It’s quite clear what are facts and what are my opinion. Like most blogs, both are expressed. In addition to pure science content, I focus on exposing pseudoscience. And while people can disagree with what I consider pseudoscience (psychics, ghost hunters, ghost whisperers, alternative medicine, etc) there’s no question that the scientific evidence is greatly in my favor. I also criticize grand conspiracy theories about 9/11 and secret bankers and lizards claimed to be ruling the world. And of course I discuss religion a lot. And I try to cite my sources as often as possible, as I did at the bottom of my comment to Dr. Buttar. I appreciate criticism as apparently so does Dr. Buttar, so I welcome the opportunity to rebut his rebuttal. So let’s begin.
So the video begins with Dr. Buttar introducing the situation and him seemingly complaining about my comment’s length and then he immediately slips in a factual error. He says:[emphasis mine]
“Thimerosal is a preservative that’s used in all vaccines. Now the popular notion is that Thimerosal is no longer used in vaccines.”
Two points here: First, of course Thimerosal is not used in “all” vaccines. For instance, there’s not any Thimerosal in MMR vaccines. That’s just one off the top of my head. There are many others. It’s not even found in all flu vaccines anymore. I would direct Dr. Buttar to the FDA’s website, the CDC’s website, as well as this list here put out by the Institute for Vaccine Safety, which according to their website:
“The Institute for Vaccine Safety was established in 1997 at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health – now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Our mission is to provide an independent assessment of vaccines and vaccine safety to help guide decision makers and educate physicians, the public and the media about key issues surrounding the safety of vaccines.”
So is Buttar calling these organizations liars? If so, that’s quite a large accusation to make, one which demands loads of evidence to back up. Buttar certainly hasn’t backed it up here, nor does he go back to even acknowledge what an extraordinary accusation he has made.
Now my second point relates to Buttar’s second statement here, “the popular notion is that Thimerosal is no longer used in vaccines.” This is a straw man for him to easily knock down. As far as I’m aware, no one in the medical community nor any of their blogger defenders have suggested that Thimerosal in no longer used in vaccines. And I never made such a claim myself in my original response. Read it for yourself. So Buttar is incorrect on both accounts.
He says I “land-blasted Ms. Piper-Terry,” who although was a source he provided in his original blog, during the first few seconds of his video he seemed to not even know who she was or what her actual professional background was. He then suggests I only posted my comment because I thought they’d dispose of it. On the contrary, I’m glad they didn’t and I’m glad they responded to it.
Then he makes a red herring argument that has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue by saying all us “vaccine proponents” (aka the entire mainstream medical community) never use our real names on our blogs. Orac goes into length on the anti-vacciner obsession with having the real names of their internet critics and their penchant for trying to “out” their identities. I’m not all that secretive. By now anyone who devotes a reasonable amount of time reading through my blog will come across both my first name (in either my first or one of my first entries) and my last name when I blogged about Airbourne. I’m really not that mysterious. Further, I can name several of science bloggers actively defending vaccines who do blog under their real names: Steven Novella, Phil Plait, and Mark Hoofnagle to name a few. So again, his use of the word “all” is erroneous. And is Skepacabra really that hard to say? Really? I thought it rolled off the tongue. Well, for the future, emphasize the first and third syllables. Buttar then seems to imply that because he doesn’t hide his position or “hide behind an alias” that that gives him greater authority when I cite my sources, including the top medical institutions in the U.S. and Dr. Buttar cites some random blogger whose credentials he doesn’t even know. Again, it’s not a big, spooky conspiracy who I am and its available if you want to go searching through my blog. But it’s red herring argument that has nothing to do with the evidence, so I see no reason why I should come out and tell you who I am. I will say that I am not a doctor or even a scientist. If you read the “About” section on my blog you’ll see that I work in media. I’ll even say that I don’t even work in news media and I have no financial connection to any medical or pharmaceutical companies. I’m just a fan science and scientific skepticism. But funny how he deduces that the reason I don’t reveal my identity (which again I do if you’re willing to look for it) is because I’m not confident in my arguments. Again, my level of confidence in my arguments have nothing to do with their validity. And so far Dr. Buttar hasn’t even addressed any of my actual arguments.
Onto Buttar’s next straw man. I’m not claiming Mercury is not dangerous. It’s this that is actually an oversimplification of the issue. The medical consensus, which I’m defending is that the level of substance within the quantity of vaccines given to toddlers meets safe levels.
Next he cites a 17-year-old study, which he seems to think is very recent but seems way too old to be citing today, especially when we’ve learned so much more about autism in just the last few years. Then he doesn’t even elaborate on study itself. He just seems to use it for an argument from authority. I can and already have pointed out more recent studies and even summarized what the research actually showed. By all means, doctor, explain how the Scandinavia, Canada, and U.S. studies aren’t smoking gun evidence of the vaccine hypotheses complete and utter failure. Here’s a link to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia , where they lay out more evidence that mercury doesn’t cause autism. And as stated above, all the study says, at least the part he read, which presumably is supposed to make his case is that Thimerosal is not good for you. Duh! Again, there’s a big difference between safe levels of a substance and unsafe levels of a substance, as I pointed out in the Vitamin C analogy in my original post. If you don’t know the difference, you shouldn’t have graduated from med school. And that Eli Lilly didn’t put Thimerosal in their own vaccines (a fact I’m going to have to take his word for) doesn’t prove anything other than that they didn’t put Thimerosal in their vaccines. You can attempt to infer why that is but without any further evidence to back up the claim, your conclusion is a non-sequitur.
FINALLY, after droning on for five minutes, he begins to actually address what I’ve written. He says:
“Thimerosal has not been removed from all childhood vaccines.”
Now since autism typically crops up before the age of two, I’ll address only the vaccine schedule up to that point. See vaccine schedule. With the exception of the recommended flu vaccine once a year, which other vaccines on the schedule contain Thimerosal? I’ll concede that maybe one other on the list does but I’ll have to recheck that. Now you mention that there are two government studies that say thimerosal is still in childhood vaccines? Which studies? You’re not planning on invoking the thoroughly debunked Wakefield study, are you? Again, you’re not elaborating on what the studies did. I’m sorry but I don’t find two anonymous studies very good evidence, especially when I don’t know the details of the study. I at least make up for my brevity with citations to legitimate sources.
He then continues:
In actuality, it did occur in 2002 and it wasn’t a great purge; it was what the CDC put out when they recommended, didn’t mandate, but recommended that manufacturers of vaccines take out the thimerosal, and then it was allowed to be phased out over the next few years.”
According to the CDC:
“Since 2001, with the exception of some influenza (flu) vaccines, thimerosal is not used as a preservative in routinely recommended childhood vaccines.”
Okay, the policy began even earlier in 2001. So they don’t use it anymore other than in flu vaccines and those still using thimerosal are phased out. Fine. I will quote what I said in my original response:
“Even if you were to argue that vaccines were only one of several causes/contributors to autism or that autism is the result of “too much too soon”, your hypothesis is still sunk as again we would expect to have seen a dramatic decrease in the rate of autism after the rather dramatic reduction of Thimerosal in vaccines. THAT HASN’T HAPPENED! This leads us to another rather definitive conclusion: either vaccines are not responsible for autism or they play such a minor role in autism (since such a dramatic reduction in Thimerosal showed no significant change) as to make the whole “debate” over Thimerosal unproductive, impractical, and just simply a waste of time, effort, and money.”
The significant reduction of thimerosal to where we’re at now with it being almost completely gone and at least far less thimerosal than I received by the age of two hasn’t yielded any significant decline in autism. The hypothesis is a bust.
Now Buttar cites a Safe Minds study from 2003. I’ve already cited a 2004 study by Safeminds above, which I’ll link to again that says vaccine shelf life can be over two and a half years. Well, it’s been seven years. And even in 2004, it seems there weren’t that many vaccines still carrying thimerosal. Again, you’re still in the position of having to explain why no significant drop in the number of autism cases occurred as the thimerosal-filled vaccines dwindled. The hypothesis has failed to make accurate predictions. Conclusion: thimerosal in vaccines has no link to autism.
I find I spend so much evidence refuting claims of why thimerosal could cause autism that I always forget that there’s no reason whatsoever why such a link should have been suggested in the first place. What’s the evidence? A vague timing correlation, a bunch of anecdotal evidence, an a poorly conducted study by the discredited Andrew Wakefield, and the general fact that too much mercury is bad for you? Really? What am I missing that you consider to be such compelling evidence? This whole manufacturing phase thimerosal is just a lame excuse to not give up on this thoroughly refuted sacred cow of yours.
Now the fact that Dan Burton asked for criminal sanctions against the FDA is evidence? So what?! We live in a litigious society. And of course there’s studies being done on vaccines and autism constantly all over the world, not just 1 or 2 U.S. medical organizations. The fact is that none of the major medical organizations anywhere in the world finds any of this even remotely compelling. So if you want to use how strongly Dan Burton felt that he was right as evidence, I think the scientists have you beat just by having more people who disagree feeling just as strongly that they’re right, if not more so. This is just an appeal to conspiracy and ad hominem. You can’t attack the studies, so you attack the character and the institutions themselves.
The fact that your son testified before congress and the entry on Wikipedia, which anyone in the world can edit, deleted the entry is another red herring argument. Science isn’t determined in the court room but in labs. And I hardly think the fact that your son testified in court was such a huge threat to vaccine’s nearly flawless record of saving lives with few negative side effects. Here’s a theory. Maybe Wikipedia’s moderators didn’t view this as an important historical fact worthy of preserving. You have absolutely no idea who deleted you silly entry and no proof of any foul play. Unless you have significant evidence of a grand conspiracy, it’s unethical to make such serious allegations.
We’re not anti-toxicity; we’re pro-evidence. And again, the overwhelming evidence supports genetic factors for autism, not toxicity.
Quotes and sources:
“From time to time, rumors circulate that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative once used in several vaccines (and still used in some flu vaccine), could contribute to ASDs. However, valid scientific studies have shown there is no link. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), the CDC, and the Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that science does not support a link between thimerosal in vaccines and autism.” -American Academy of Pediatrics (http://www.aap.org/healthtopics/Immunizations.cfm)
“The author concludes that recent studies have found no association between MMR vaccination and autism. The frequent embryologic neuroanatomic abnormalities found in children with autism lessen the likelihood that MMR immunization is a major risk factor. The Immunization Safety Review Committee of the Institute of Medicine and a special American Academy of Pediatrics panel have concluded that evidence does not support MMR immunization as a risk factor for autism.” -RICHARD SADOVSKY, M.D., American Academy of Family Physicians (http://www.aafp.org/afp/20020301/tips/14.html)
“On May 18th, 2004, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released its eighth and final report from its Immunization Safety Review Committee. Based on a thorough review of clinical and epidemiological studies, neither the mercury-based vaccine preservative thimerosal nor the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine are associated with autism, says the new report. Furthermore, the hypotheses regarding how the MMR vaccine and thimerosal could trigger autism lack supporting evidence and are theoretical only. Further research to find the cause of autism should be directed toward other lines of inquiry that are supported by current knowledge and evidence and offer more promise for providing an answer, said the committee that wrote the report. The American Medical Association (AMA) lauds the process that went into the creation of this scientific report and applauds the IOM and the CDC for their strong efforts in continuing to ensure the safety of the vaccines that are administered in the United States through post-market surveillance and studies such as this.” -American Medical Association (http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/category/13703.html”
“Some people believe increased exposure to thimerosal (from the addition of important new vaccines recommended for children) explains the higher prevalence in recent years. However, evidence from several studies examining trends in vaccine use and changes in autism frequency does not support such an association. Furthermore, a scientific review* by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) concluded that “the evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism.” CDC supports the IOM conclusion.” –Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/thimerosal.htm)
“There is much debate regarding the correlation of childhood vaccines and the occurrence of autism in children. The weight of currently available scientific evidence does not support the hypothesis that vaccines cause autism. We recognize there is considerable public interest in this issue.” -U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Resources (http://www.hhs.gov/autism/)
http://www.csicop.org/si/2007-06/novella.html – Neurologist critiques of Kirby