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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Anti-vaxxers, thy name is "Ad Hoc"

Considering my long history of writing about the nonsensical claim that vaccines cause autism, it will come as no surprise that I am excited about this recent news:

Several large-scale studies have failed to find a link between vaccines and autism. But that didn't stop parents from 5000 families who believe there is a link from seeking compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, created to help the small number of children who have severe allergic reactions to vaccines.

On 12 March, the judges overseeing the scheme declared there was no proof that the children's autism was caused by thimerosal (thiomersal outside the US), a mercury-containing preservative used in some vaccines. The same court had already thrown out claims that thimerosal plus the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine causes autism.

This is what we call a victory for science and public health, and I'm pretty psyched about the whole thing. At the same time, though, it isn't the end of the battle. Not by a long shot:

This may not be the end of the anti-vaccine campaign, however. Campaigners have already started blaming the sheer number of vaccines a child receives, rather than a particular one or combination, for autism.

And that is the second greatest reason* to doubt the anti-vaccination folks: when their claims are falsified they simply revamp their causal mechanism and try again. And again. And again. And you'd think at some point it would become clear to most observers that the issue isn't that they have reason to believe that vaccines cause autism, but rather that they believe vaccines cause autism and are looking for a reason.

Still, this is an occasion for celebration. We'll worry about the next round of stoopid tomorrow.**

* The greatest reason, of course, being the megaton of scientific evidence contradicting any link between vaccinations and autism. The third greatest reason, for those who are curious, is the sheer inanity of many of the anti-vaccine "experts" themselves.

** Which, coincidentally, will be the next installment in my series on Left Behind. Rather appropriate, no?

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