The list of papers pictured to the left -- an ever growing number -- has been circulating for some time. Back in the summer of 2013, a group of people addressed the papers in the list (then numbering 86) and showed how the papers did not support the claim. You can read that series beginning here: Those Lists of Papers Claiming That Vaccines Cause Autism: They Don't Show What They Claim.
But the woman compiling the papers, Ginger Taylor, likes to reshuffle the list and add papers -- seemingly at random.
Taylor is a loud voice in the "vaccines do too cause autism" movement, and has been since 2004. She has been known to make much of her "scientific background" as a marriage and family therapist but she actually was a paid political operative. Nonetheless, this list keeps being cited, mostly by the scientifically naive, as "proof" that vaccines can be causal in autism, and latterly, that the CDC is covering something up.
I had been meaning to reconvene the paper study team since last summer, but the project just did not gel.
Thankfully, two other people took up the baton. The first at The Logic of Science is by a pseudonymous scientist who has good reasons for using a pseudonym. The second is by a trauma surgeon who has been writing Stories from the Trauma Bay since 2011. He likewise has good professional reasons for blogging under a pseudonym. (See this post from the Pseudonymity Laboratory for reasons to trust anonymous bloggers.)
- Teach critical thinking.
- Explain how science works and why it is reliable.
- Use critical thinking to defend science against the numerous logically flawed attacks that are hurled at it.
In the blog post Vaccines and autism: A thorough review of the evidence Fallacy Man evaluated two lists of "vaccines don't cause autism" papers and three lists of papers intended to show that vaccines can cause autism:
Vaccines don't cause autism lists:
- 107 Studies That Show No Link Between Vaccines And Autism Catherina Just the Vax March 11 2014
- Vaccines And Autism – Science Says They Are Unrelated The Original Skeptical Raptor March 24 2016
Vaccines do cause autism lists:
- 22 Medical Studies That Show Vaccines Can Cause Autism Arjun Walia Activist Post September 12, 2013
- 124 Research papers supporting Vaccine/Autism Causation Ginger Taylor, MS Scribd April 28, 2014
- 30 Solid Scientific Studies That Prove Vaccines Cause Autism Sean Adl-Tabatabai Your News Wire December 9, 2015
Fallacy Man's goal of the exercise of going through these papers ( enumeration & paragraph breaks added for ease of reading; )
I have three key target audiences here.
First, to any parents who are concerned about vaccines and are truly and sincerely looking for good information rather than just trying to find evidence to support their preconceptions, I hope that this post will be a helpful tool for you and will dispel much of the nonsense on the internet. There are so many frightening stories and claims out there that I fully understand why you would be concerned. So I have done my best to thoroughly cover all of the evidence, and I hope that you will carefully consider it.Second, for those who have already reviewed the evidence, but are tired of explaining it over and over again in debates, I hope that this post will provide a resource that will save you some time.
Third, for those who are not particularly interested in the autism/vaccine debate, I hope that this post will provide a nice worked example of how to critically analyze a large body of literature. There are, sadly, a lot of bad scientific publications out there, and it is important that you know how to sift through them and separate the high quality studies from the statistical noise.
Finally, to those who are already convinced that vaccines cause autism, although you are not my target audience, I do hope that you will read this, but I have one simple request to make of you. If you choose to continue reading, then I want you to seriously consider the possibility that you might be wrong and actually examine the evidence presented here. If you aren’t willing to do that, then there is really no point in you continuing to read.
After a long and detailed discussion of the papers presented in both sets of lists, Fallacy Man concludes:
It should now be clear to you that the evidence really is overwhelmingly supportive of vaccines. Even though anti-vaccers claim to have lengthy lists of papers supporting their position, most of those papers are irrelevant, used weak designs, and had small sample sizes. In contrast, the literature supporting vaccine safety consists of multiple exceptionally large and powerful studies. So there really is no good scientific evidence to suggest that vaccines cause autism.
If you want to use either set of lists, you owe it to yourself to at least glance over the Logic of Science post; it is exceptionally thorough and detailed. (Aside: please see Fallacy Man's explanation of the hierarchy of evidence)
In the second post, 124 papers that DO NOT prove vaccines cause autism, the author wrote:
However none of them goes over each of the 124 papers individually. Moreover I've been feeling increasingly uneasy lately about using other folks' blog posts to shoot down this "proof". To that end I've decided to do my own...
I've now read every . . . single . . . one of these 124 papers and will address any and all concerns I found relevant. Despite the fact that many of Ginger's links were broken, the titles here are all clickable and go to the original abstract (or the full paper for some of them).
And so Doc Bastard goes through the papers, in order, step by step. His tone is less academic than Fallacy Man's, but the analysis is equally serious.For example,
69) Pediatric Vaccines Influence Primate Behavior, and Amygdala Growth and Opioid Ligand Binding
If I was laughing at #68, I was rolling on the floor after reading this one. This was a pilot study which showed (in its preliminary data) that macaques given childhood vaccines showed some neurodevelopmental deficits. The followup 5-year comprehensive study, which was funded by Safeminds (another rabidly antivax group) was published in 2015, showed no differences in macaques given the full infant vaccine schedule with and without thimerosal versus controls who were given saline injections. I'll repeat for those antivaxxers too slow to understand: the full infant vaccine schedule was given, the monkeys were followed for 5 years, and there was no evidence of any neurobehavioural differences. Feel free to use that reference (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25690930) with any antivaxxer that tries to claim "BUT THE VACCINE SCHEDULE HASN'T BEEN TESTED!" Safeminds was, as expected, not happy that their money went to fund a study that refuted their own pre-determined conclusion.
Doc Bastard concludes his review with
AND THAT IS IT. As I was going through every single paper in this list, it became increasingly clear that Ginger simply went to Pubmed, typed in her search terms (thimerosal, mercury, oxidative stress, autism, heavy metals), and copied the links without bothering to read or understand what the hell she was reading. Of the 124 papers presented, exactly -0- of them proves any link between vaccines and autism, and a few even disprove any link. I sincerely doubt that any antivaxxer who sprays this list around the Twitterverse (or anywhere else) has read any of these papers, let alone all of them. Having now read every single one, I feel . . . well, I feel exactly the same.
There are no reputable studies that indicate vaccines can cause autism. And while we are at it, Wakefield's research has not been replicated. Except in the sense that it has, courtesy of epidemiologist Reuben Gaines.
PS: A medical student tackled Ginger Taylor's assertions about vaccine causation back in 2009 at Heal Spiel. It is still worth a read.
Updated May 4 2016: Iida Ruishalme, a Finnish cell biologist living in Switzerland, writes the blog Thoughtscapism (again, highly recommended). Her post, The great myth of vaccines and autism, addresses a few of the papers in Taylor's list,
Taylor Image Source http://www.ageofautism.com/2015/04/maine-national-town-hall-debate-on-vaccines.html (April 2015)