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Tuesday, May 08, 2012


Michael Simpson

OK, let me try this again.

I hate to cast aspersions on the anti-vaccine crowd (but I do it anyways), part of why they're bringing out 2-3 year old studies is probably because there's just no data supporting their beliefs, so retreading old ones like they are Nobel Prize-winning research is the best they can do.
I get annoyed by what I call "research-mining" a corollary to "quote-mining". Using logically fallacious confirmation bias, they mine for the research that supports their point-of-view rather than the broad scientific consensus. I wrote an article that describes how pseudoscience uses research to make their cases. Basically, they rely upon weak or poor research while ignoring all other research.
Published research has an order of quality from best to worst:
1. Secondary research, usually meta-reviews or research that confirms a hypothesis, published in peer-reviewed, high impact journals. These include Nature, Science, PNAS, Lancet (well, save for one piece of fraud), JAMA, NEJM, and many others. High impact means that they are extremely well reviewed, and they're cited in other journals more frequently.
2. Primary research, published in the same journals. The problem with primary research is that, although well-done, has not established a scientific consensus. It hasn't been repeated. And it hasn't been reviewed. But it does have a value, though it should be looked at somewhat skeptically until the body of evidence develops around it.
3. Primary or secondary research in medium-impact journals, which are usually journals that concentrate in a particular area. Whereas PNAS has a broad readership in the sciences, the Journal of Neurology has a highly focused audience. It doesn't mean that it is bad data, it's just that it usually doesn't describe a new theory…yet.
4. Primary or secondary research in low-impact, biased journals. Alternative medicine does this a lot, since the research is usually rejected by the better journals, so they go to one that supports their bias. These are peer-reviewed, but they are strict about who constitutes a peer. Say a homeopathy article will be reviewed by homeopaths not by a broad spectrum of physicians or scientists.
5. Conference abstracts are near the bottom. Even Wikipedia, which can be useful, rejects conference abstracts, "Conference abstracts present incomplete and unpublished data and undergo varying levels of review; they are often unreviewed self-published sources and these initial conclusions may have changed dramatically if and when the data are finally ready for publication. Consequently, they are usually poor sources and should always be used with caution, never used to support surprising claims, and carefully identified in the text as preliminary work."
6. Popular press (newspapers, magazines), unless they link to the research. Then you should just use the research.
7. Blogs, biased press (Natural News is a favorite).
I don't think I've seen a single article in the Vaccines Cause Autism hypothesis that meets #1 or #2.
Anyways, great article, and one I will link to. You looked up a lot of research there, but maybe it's just me, but I simply reject their research because of its quality.

David N. Brown

Wow, I'm surprised even anti-vaxxers are still talking about this paper. Here's my take on it:

I find your own title interesting and perhaps more apt than intended, because, in my opinion, the study's conclusions may have been shaped in no small part by overuse of "2-D" cross sectioning to describe the three-dimensional brain.

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