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Atlanta Skeptics Message Board › Open Letter to Tom Woods - "Seeking the Scientific Consensus Concerning

Open Letter to Tom Woods - "Seeking the Scientific Consensus Concerning Vaccine Safety"

Marc M.
Atlanta, GA
Post #: 16
Hello, Tom,

I just wanted to follow up on our discussion at the Skeptics in the Pub meetup last night as I said I would.

I'll start by sharing this link to the March 2004 article in Mother Jones that I think was the one you were referring to when you made your comments in response to the announcement about the recent findings of fraud in the Wakefield studies.

Toxic Tipping Point

The paragraph of interest, I think, is the following,

Thanks to [Rep. David] Weldon's intervention, [Dr. Mark] Geier has now been able to use the CDC database to compare autism rates among more than 85,000 children who received a TCV for diphtheria/tetanus/acellular pertussis (DTaP) with rates among nearly 70,000 children who got the thimerosal-free version. In the TCV group, the risk of autism was 27 times higher. Geier's analysis is before two journals. Meanwhile, Dr. Walter Spitzer, a highly respected epidemiologist, has reviewed it and says, "This is important and needs to get out immediately. I see no major flaws. It is sound epidemiologically."

Here is the American Academy of Pediatrics response to a 2003 Geier article published in the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, which I believe refers to the work cited in Mother Jones.

Study Fails to Show a Connection Between Thimerosal and Autism

Among the many flaws in Geirer's study that are enumerated, it emphasizes this one at the very beginning

The most important weakness of the article is the reliance on VAERS [Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] data to draw conclusions about adverse event associations or causality. VAERS is a passive surveillance system for reporting possible vaccine adverse events that depends on health care professionals, patients, and others to file reports.

I reference the above two articles only because they relate specifically to the claims you made last night. As I said, my overriding interest in this topic has to do with exploring where the scientific consensus lies on the matter of thimerosal and vaccine safety. I am not inclined to engage in a pissing contest in which we each take turns trotting out links to papers and articles that support our differing points of view. Given Google and the Internet, this kind of URL back-and-forth could go on endlessly without hope of resolution.

I also want to agree with you unequivocally, that all parties in this debate are subject to venal human frailties and that conflicts of interest - pecuniary and otherwise - must be forever kept in mind and vetted. That said, the appearance of an isolated infraction, although troubling, does not categorically undermine either side's position.

[For purposes of disclosure I should state that my brother Toby is the Assistant Director for Influenza Coordination at the CDC. If you believe that this conflict taints my intellectual integrity, then there is hardly any point in our continuing this discussion.]

As far as the scientific consensus goes, I have attached a PDF issued by the American Association of Pediatrics this past November, Vaccine Studies: Examine the Evidence, which includes a compendium of references to articles, including brief descriptions, that address the question of the existence of a connection between thimerosal and vaccine safety. These together run to a length of about 15 pages. They range from in vitro laboratory investigations to epidemiological studies on a national scale. There are a few that are themselves meta-studies that review the literature itself.

I also refer you to this section of the Wikipedia article on the scientific consensus on the matter of the thimerosal controversy. I do this not because I consider Wikipedia authoritative (I don't), but because it provides a convenient, one-stop reference to the positions of the following organizations including the this report by the Institute of Medicine.

The American Medical Association,
The American Academy of Pediatricians,
The American College of Medical Toxicology,
The Canadian Paediatric Society,
The National Academy of Sciences,
The Food and Drug Administration,
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
The World Health Organization,
The Public Health Agency of Canada,
and The European Medicines Agency.

I think that we both agree that speaking out on questions concerning public health - especially where children are concerned - requires that we arm ourselves with the best information available. The only way I know how to do this is to try to determine where the scientific consensus lies. This is not, of course, the truth writ large, but the best provisional answer we have to work with at the current time. Such is the nature of science.

A former member
Post #: 2
I was wondering if someone was going to pick up on that. Excellent reply, Marc.

Marc M.
Atlanta, GA
Post #: 17
There is a very informative opinion piece that appears in today's New England Journal of Medicine.

The Age-Old Struggle against the Antivaccinationists

It provides a useful historical perspective on the issue and outlines a 4-point program "to hasten the funeral of antivaccination campaigns". I highly recommend taking a look at it.

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