I can’t stand the rain – and neither can this autism study

Though the Republicans are famed for their War on Science, the left has plenty of anti-science anti-evidence faith-based cranks, too. A prime example is some of the anti-vaccine dribble published on the Huffington Post. David Kirby is best known for his thoroughly debunked book Evidence of Harm, and has now written a HuffPo column on the alleged link between autism prevalence and precipitation. Kirby takes the poorly done original study and runs wild, linking mercury and autism and rainfall and coal and vaccines in a positive orgy of denialism.

Respectful Insolence explains better than I can why the original study, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, fails to establish a link between precipitation and autism. Here’s some select quotes from his excellent analysis:

Note that the authors did not correlate autism prevalence directly with raw mean precipitations but instead used a “relative precipitation variable.” When I see something like that, I know right away that there was no correlation between raw mean precipitation levels and autism…

The authors of the current study, although they tried to correlate for household income, didn’t even attempt to control for urbanicity. That alone makes this study highly suspect, at least to me…

Another problem with this study is that it examines only the Pacific Coast, specifically California, Oregon, and Washington. There is no indication that the observations made in this study are generalizable….

Now, It’s possible there may be a genetic susceptibility to autism that is triggered by an environmental factor or factors, but nothing–I repeat, nothing–in this study supports that hypothesis. Measures of genetic susceptibility were not even a part of the study–or even looked at! To use the words “genetic susceptibility” in the conclusions and to say that this study somehow supports an interaction of genetic susceptibility and environmental factors is just plain incorrect.

So back to the Kirby column. Kirby is an anti-science crank because he refuses to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that there is NO LINK between vaccines and autism. From Dr. Paul Offit, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and author of Autism’s False Prophets:

In response to the concern that vaccines caused autism, the public health and academic communities responded, performing a series of large, carefully controlled, epidemiological studies. Ten separate groups of investigators found no link between MMR and autism and six groups found no link between thimerosal and autism. Because of the strength, consistency, and reproducibility of these studies, the notion that MMR or thimerosal cause autism is no longer a scientific controversy.

Kirby is an utterly unreliable source – note that he’s still plugging the vaccine-autism connection in this column.  Unfortunately, he’s not alone. There are rumors that Obama is considering making Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. the head of the EPA – and RFK is an anti-vaccine crank as well. If Obama truly values science – and I believe that he does – than I hope that he will appoint people who can make scientific decisions based on the evidence. Because fear-mongering and denialism sure don’t sound like change.

Thanks to Martini-Corona, who requested that I unleash the Oyster Hounds upon this Kirby column. Now released, the Oyster Hounds are frolicking in the rain and gnawing on David Kirby’s femur.


9 Responses to I can’t stand the rain – and neither can this autism study

  1. ny says:

    Hooray for the Oyster Hounds!

  2. Tom Brandt says:

    Thank you very much for this post. I was planing on keeping up on Mr. Obama’s cabinet picks, just to be an informed citizen. But if he selects Mr Kennedy for the EPA post, I may have to take action and start yelling onto the web.

    There should be no hint in Mr. Obama’s selections of any support to the anti-science crazies, and we must be ever diligent to make sure he toes the line here.

    I have started a paper (yes, real paper) file of information on the up-coming cabinet selections so I can keep a close eye on them. A copy of this posting of yours is my first entry there-in.

  3. Brady Blake says:

    Oyster hounds? Is that an AKC recognized breed? Pictures? Lydia and I just this past year got the AKC to finally recognize our American Shedder Dog and our American Lickey Dog as breeds.

  4. Martini-Corona says:

    Let’s start a petition now: if Obama picks Kennedy for the EPA, then Sasha and Malia should be gifted with an adorable Oyster Hound. His name shall be Mimsy Borogrove Obama.

  5. Hisly says:

    Crap, you totally preempted my “Oyster Hound”/Obama puppy joke. Damn you.

  6. adamooo says:

    Wow, we thought our rescue mutt was probably mostly Border Collie, but now I understand that he’s an American Lickey Dog / American Shedder Dog hybrid. Probably 25/75% respectively, with a fraction of Oyster Hound in there somewhere… Thanks for the info!

  7. Brady Blake says:

    Loose the Oyster hounds! Looks like RFK jr is the new head of EPA. I wonder if they can find some cells from Timothy Leary to clone for the position of Surgeon General?

    In the mean time I have two bounties of my local wild harvest to prepare an omelet from this morning. Nice limit of Crassostrea gigas and a gallon of Craterellus cornucopioides. The world may be doomed but my ravenous appetite for the good things in life is optimistic.

  8. J.P. says:

    Every time I do read the word republican in my mind I am guided to pelican.

  9. Jess says:

    Ah, but have you seen the Onion’s take on the matter?

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