Thursday, 19 February 2009

Holy F**king Sh*t: Daily Mail debunks MMR autism link

This post may be unsuitable for minors or people upset by scenes of total doublethink.

Well, the day has finally come. The Daily Mail has finally joined the rest of the world in accepting that MMR is safe, and that the 1998 study by Andrew Wakefield has been "debunked" (even though the study never says that MMR causes autism, a press release did and it was debunked 10 years ago). Measles is on the rise again, and that's actually a big deal. Kids are getting sick, people have died and someone is going to hang. This isn't just Wakefield's fault of course. No, he should not be a scapegoat! There are others to blame. Us, apparently. In a remarkable display of doublethink, the Daily Mail points the finger at "middle-class MMR refuseniks". Parents who somehow bought the press-release pseudoscience presented by Wakefield (minus the et al). They must have picked it up off Reuters, the wiley middle-class (yet strangely uncritical and credulous) bastards.

Of course, the Mail don't mention the media frenzy that followed the "confirmation" of Wakefield's 1998 work (by, er.. Wakefield). The evidence-free total bullshitstorm that presented Wakefield's speculations directly to that middle-(and working-) class audience as if it were yet another scientific "breakthrough". The torrent of jargon filled trash that published everything that vaguely supported the hypothesis but ignored the dozens and dozens of studies debunking it, milking that story for every millilitre of newspaper sales it had. And how could they, since up until a month ago the Daily Mail were still doing it? Still implying that MMR was dangerous. But today they've hit the reset button. And I feel like I just fell through the looking glass. It's funny, in a totally horrifying kind of way. Well, let me just say, so that we can be clear. And you'll have to forgive me for my profanity because it just feels like that sort of moment.


I mean, seriously. Read your own articles. People are going to hang for this, but the media are the ones judging who, so the list will doubtlessly be restricted to:

-A. J Wakefield
-The Middle Classes

I feel like I'm taking crazy pills.

Update 18:08: It's even crazier than I thought. A search for "MMR" on the Daily Mail reveals a similar article in 2008 blaming "mothers" for the oncoming measles epidemic. This article sits amongst yet more panic pieces calling MMR "controversial" and cagey coverage of the research that 'disproves MMR jab link to autism' (the quotes were in the headline as if incredulous). Clearly, the Mail spent 2008 being eased into a gentle but enormous u-turn.


Michael said...

I honestly don't know whether to be happy, sad, relieved or angry at this news.

I guess the reaction should be "nonplussed". It's hardly a surprise that now the Daily Mail have (apparently) changed their stance, they'll pretend they never ever had the alternative stance in the first place.

The Biologista said...

That's the thing about the Internet. It never forgets...

Anthony Cox said...

They are arguably covering their arse after Brian Deer's revelations and the Cedillo ruling. After years of misinforming the public, they are now telling us it wasn't their fault, even though they published a vaccine-austism scare story last month, but the parents they misinformed.

Alternatively they are not arse-covering, and all this case shows us is that the media is chaotic and random in its endorsements.

The Biologista said...

It could be that your second point is correct. Whilst they were fairly consistent in their condemnation of MMR for many years, they now seem to have reverted to their standard position on all scientific matters: that all opinions, so long as they're presented by "an expert", are equally valid.

benv said...

Typical Daily Mail eh? Blaming everyone but themselves. I honestly think that without the daily mail, badscience would be a whole lot less interesting. It's almost as if we rely on them to come out with this c***.

Anonymous said...

See the following theory:
The ‘theory of mind’ (ToM) hypothesis of autism. Tom is an hypothesis first published in 1985.
Other articles ask what caused the autism epidemic?
The CDC studies say it is not MMR or Thimerosal. Other hypotheses have included autoimmune diseases, etc.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) Data website:
Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) sleep position data:
Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Birth Data:
2006 Median Income Data: - U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
NOTICE PDR-2006-01

Autism Spectrum Disorders, Asperger's Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorders - Not Otherwise specified (PDD-NOS)
Gastrointestinal Disorders also known as GER is a common comorbidity
Autism patients tend to have minicolumn abnormalities and increased amounts of white matter
Casanova MF, van Kooten IA, Switala AE, Ven Engeland H, Heinsen H, Steinbusch HW, Hof PR, Trippe J, Stone J, Schmitz C. Minicolumnar abnormalities in autism. Acta Neuropathol. 2006 Sep; 112(3); 287-303.
Mostofsky SH, Burgess MP, Larson JCG. Increased motor cortex white matter volume predicts motor impairment in autism. Brain (2007), 130, 2117-2122

Maternal smoking decreased significantly between 1990 and 2002
Infant suffocation deaths increased 14% per year on average between 1996 and 2004
Centers for Disease Control. Smoking & Tobacco Use - Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports (MMWRs) – Smoking During Pregnancy – United States, 1990-2002 – October 7, 2004 / Vol. 53/ No. 39
Shapiro-Mendoza CK, Kimball M, Tomashek KM, Anderson RN, Blanding S.US Infant Mortality Trends Attributable to Accidental Suffocation and Strangulation in Bed From 1984 Through 2004: Are Rates Increasing? Pediatrics 2009;123;533-539

Here is a good article on diagnosing this:
Filipek P, Accardo P, Ashwal S, Baranek G, Cook E, Dawson G, Gordon B, Gravel J, Johnson C, Kallen R, Levy S, Minshew N, Ozonoff S, Prizant B, Rapin I, Rogers S, Stone W, Teplin S, Tuchman R, Volkmar F. Practice parameter: Screening and diagnosis of autism Report of the Quality Standards Subcommittee of the American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society NEUROLOGY 2000;55:468–479

SIDS, Autism, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Plagiocephaly, etc. are all
conditions that the medical profession is trying to treat.
The SIDS back sleep (Supine) sleep recommendations began in 1992
The SIDS "Back to Sleep" campaign began in 1994.
In 1996 the AAP SIDS Task Force, led by Dr. John Kattwinkel recommended the supine sleep position and not the side(lateral) or front(prone).
THe Netherlands began their SIDS Back to Sleep Campaign in 1987.
Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, declarative learning, and procedural learning.

The following are useful articles which discuss many of these issues indepth:
American Academy of Pediatrics Task Force on Infant Positioning and SIDS. Positioning and SIDS. Pediatrics. 1992;89:1120-1126
Hogberg U, Bergstrom E. Suffocated Prone: The Iatrogenic Tragedy of SIDS. American Journal of Public Health. 2000;90:527-531
National Infant Sleep Position Household Survey. Summary Data. updated: 10/16/08 Website:
Kattwinkel J, Hauck F.R., Moon R.Y., Malloy M and Willinger M Infant Death Syndrome: In Reply, Bed Sharing With Unimpaired Parents Is Not an Important Risk for Sudden. Pediatrics 2006;117;994-996
Buzs├íki, G. 1989. Two-stage model of memory trace formation: A role for “noisy” brain states. Neuroscience 31: 551–570.
Hasselmo, M.E. 1999. Neuromodulation: Acetylcholine and memory consolidation. Trends Cogn. Sci. 3: 351–359.
Wierzynski DM, Lubenov EV, Gu M, Siapas AG. State-Dependent Spike-Timing Relationships between Hippocampal and Prefrontal Circuits during Sleep. Neuron 61, 587-596, February 26, 2009
Walker MP, Stickgold R. Sleep, Memory, and Plasticity. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2006. 57: 139-66
Gais S, Born J. Declarative memory consolidation: Mechanisms acting during human sleep. Learn Mem. 2004 Nov-Dec; 11(6): 679-685
Davis BE, Moon RY, Sachs HC, Ottolini MC. Effects of sleep position on infant motor development. Pediatrics. 1998 Nov; 102(5):1135-40.
Skadberg BT, Markestad T. Consequences of Getting the Head Covered During Sleep in Infancy. Pediatrics 1997;100;e6
AJ Williams, RD Jitendra, JB Phillips, Y Lin, T McCabe, FC Tortella. Neuroprotective Efficacy and Therapeutic Window of the High-Affinity N-Methyl-D-aspartate Antagonist Conantokin-G: In Vitro (Primary Cerebellar Neurons) and In Vivo (Rat Model of Transient Focal Brain Ischemia) Studies1
Stradling JR, Thomas G, Warley AR, Williams P, Freeland A. Effect of adenotonsillectomy on nocturnal hypoxaemia, sleep disturbance, and symptoms in snoring children. Lancet. 1990;335 :249 –253

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