Friday, November 13, 2009

IACC Autism Research Plan: Dr. Steven Novella Throws a Tantrum

Steven Novella MD, author of the NEUROLOGICA blog, doesn't like the recent IACC Statement on Autism Research and is throwing a tantrum. In IACC Statement on Autism Research Dr. Novella objects to the inclusion of research into possible links between vaccines and autism. Specifically he objects to language, approved unanimously by the IACC, that:

"calls for studies to determine if there are sub-populations that are more susceptible to environmental exposures such as immune challenges related to naturally occurring infections, vaccines or underlying immune problems."

In Dr. Novella's view this statement represents:

"the infiltration into the autism community of anti-vaccinationists – who have an agenda other than researching autism. In fact, the anti-vaccine movement has been unfortunately successful in branding themselves as autism activists and experts. This decision by the IACC represents the fruits of that infiltration – a distortion of funding for autism research to suit their anti-vaccine agenda. In fact, two members of the IACC – Lyn Redwood and Lee Grossman, were added specifically to represent the anti-vaccine movement in the (probably misguided) hope of placating that group."

It looks, at first reading, as though Dr. Novella has become, in the oft used words of his fellow "science" blogger Dr. David H. Gorski, aka Orac, a conspiracy theorist. Rather than do a full Orac on Dr. Novella though I think it is probably too early to tell just from his initial reaction. It is probably fairer to say, at this time, that Dr. Novella simply did not get what he wanted ... the exclusion of any reference to vaccines in the IACC strategic research plan, and his response is much like what any child who does not get his way might do ... he is lashing out ... he is throwing a tantrum.

Like many people who do not like the result or outcome of a process Dr. Novella is now furious and screams that the process itself was flawed from the outset. The inclusion of ... ugh... public representatives on the IACC is reprehensible to the good Doctor. After all Doctors should never have to listen to their patients right? No longer content to question the ability of public representatives to think about science Dr. Novella now feels that he has the expertise to determine who is, and who is not, a legitimate member of the "autism community".

Apparently it is no solace to Dr. Novella that Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the American Red Cross and the NIH, has articulated the premise that the existing vaccine autism studies were not specific enough and did not examine the possible impact of vaccines on vulnerable population subsets. Apparently it is no solace to Dr. Novella that Dr. Healy, as well as former CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding and neurologist Dr. Jon Poling have all stated that autism research should included further vaccine autism research.

Dr. Novella may be on the road to becoming what Dr. Gorski might call a conspiracy theorist but for now only one thing is certain ... the good Doctor does not like the result and he is screaming foul ... after the fact .

The Doctor is throwing a tantrum.

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Anonymous said...

Unbelievable that a "professional" would be so biased. I mean, just as with global warming, the science re the link between vaccines and autism is NOT settled, far from it.

And, as you so eloquently write here from time to time, we still need to establish why the autism diagnosis rate is increasing so quickly.

While I have suggested it could relate to more identification, and the width of the autism spectrum, the vaccine link could also be a factor.

What do people like Dr. Novella have to fear? Sure, they don't want to cause vaccination panic. I mean, we don't want to go back to having youngsters die of childhood diseases like measles, polio, whooping cough, etc.

But a severe to moderate autism spectrum disorder is a lifelong disorder. The least we can do is more research.

A hundred years or more ago, it was recommended that doctors wash their hands before examining pregnant or post-birth women, to reduce the high death rate. They were laughed at and ridiculed.

Sometimes I would swear we learn nothing from history.

Whether there is or is not a link between the ingredients in vaccines and the onset of autism symptoms, MUST be examined in as many ways as possible.

You know what this is all about, don't you? Without pointing fingers at anyone or any particular drug company, its about money and profits. Sad. Very sad.

Claire said...

It is unfortunate that there remains so much resistance to vaccine research. For those of us who have been dealing with this issue for years, it goes beyond merely the content of the vaccines themselves. There needs to be a better understanding of the function of the immune human body has to fight off 4-5 serious diseases at once, as is the case with vaccines. Then there is the issue of giving vaccines to infants whose immune responses and nervous systems are not fully developed to begin with. Furthermore, many illnesses are acquired via contact with mucosa...hand to mouth, to eyes to nose,(or sexually transmitted even) etc., then through the system that way. One does not acquire illness via direct infiltration into the blood stream or is the case with vaccines. Also, what about vaccines during pregnancy and the possibility of damage to the fetus or weakening of it before hand? Pre-existing conditions in the womb (caused by maternal vaccination) may affect a once born child's reaction to a vaccine (as opposed to or in conjunction with genetic factors). We also have to consider the lingering nature of some vaccines...certain strains of various diseases have been found in the gut, long after the vaccine serum should have cleared the system. Consider also the development of atypical measles in the teen years among a largely vaccinated population.
Then it's not just about autism. It has been suggested that currently administered in North America...could be responsible for a number of auto-immune disorders as well as degenerative neurological illnesses.
For the most part, we "anti-vaxers" are not opposed to vaccines per se, but opposed to the way they are administered. Many parents who do not have the luxury of refusing vaccines will ask for single illness vaccines,given at older ages, smaller doses, less frequently. We are a reasonable bunch for the most part. Asking for some decent and proper research is not an extremist position.

Jake Crosby said...

I mention in one sentence of my entire two-part investigation of "Science"Blogs that Novella is an adviser of the pharma toolbox, the ACSH, and he goes ape-shit, responding with a whole post that is essentially a response to a single sentence I wrote. Guess what he accused me of doing throughout his whole rant? Conspiracy mongering!

Isn't it interesting to see these people contradict themselves. On the one hand, we are anti-vaccinationist conspirators, on the other hand, we are conspiracy mongerers. Which is it? Are we part of a conspiracy, or are we discredited for suggesting there is one?

Heather E. Sedlock said...

While I am not considered an "anti-vaxer" by any stretch nor am I pro-pharma, I am just an individual living with autism, in myself and my children. I do not know, scientifically, without a doubt, that vaccination plays a role for some people with autism. (If it is connected in some way, I believe it may only be part of the problem, as in some people are affected and some are not because of a genetic predisposition of another kind.

I do hate those that quote scientific studies about this that doesn't exist... I do hate those that deliberately misstate the findings of current research and so on. Why? It does nothing to further a cause! These things are easily researched and when they are found to be false, no one buys into their theory... so even if it turns out it is true later, in the meantime they've degraded their integrity!

I am wishing for and waiting for the results of a study that examines the causal relation between vaccines and autism. I do not want there to be a relationship because I like the idea of being safe from certain diseases. But that does not mean that I will turn a blind eye and say that it shouldn't even be examined because a few extremists have done some injustice to that particular concept!

If one is to find effective treatments for all autistic people and possibly cures for those that want them, a cause must be found. If it is vaccines, I'll be the first to jump up and start a campaign against its further use. However, we need to be cautious in the meantime and let the doctors do their jobs....

And you know what else? He's entitled to his opinions and feelings. And I don't think he should be attacked because he voiced his frustrations. Isn't the verbal expression of feelings a goal for people with autism? Then why criticize someone else for doing just that?

Paper on Research said...

Many institutions limit access to their online information. Making this information available will be an asset to all.

Steven Novella said...

Sandy - do you really think it's fair to characterize my commentary as throwing a tantrum? It seems you cannot address my actual points, so you make ridiculous accusations instead. Nothing in my blog was "screaming" or ranting.

I made a simple point - research priorities should be determined by the science - what is plausible and likely to be fruitful. It should not be determined by ideology, which is what I believe the case was here. It risks diverting limited funds from more useful research.

I have no problem with further research into vaccines and autism, if there are researchers who have funding and feel it is worthwhile. I welcome the findings.

For people who truly care about helping those with autism, they should want research money to be spent most efficiently.

Also - I never accused anyone of a conspiracy. The anti-vaccine lobby is very vocal about their priorities.

And Jake, your summary of my criticisms of your post are laughable. You should be ashamed of that smear-job, and you never corrected your mistakes or apologized for them.