Skeptical Raptor's Blog hunting pseudoscience in the internet jungle

Vaccine denialists getting even more desperate to find link to autism

Generally, you know when a group is trying very hard to find support for their fringe beliefs when they have to find an insignificant court ruling in a small city in Italy. It’s like confirmation bias taken to the highest level of fallaciousness, trying to find that one irrelevant item that supports their pseudoscientific beliefs. In this case, it was a court in Rimini, Italy, a small city on the northern Adriatic coast. The court ruled that an anonymous child was diagnosed with autism about a year after receiving the MMR vaccine, which is a very safe vaccine that prevents mumps, measles and rubella, all diseases that are harmful to children.

All of the court documents are in Italian, but a Francophone blog, roughly translated here, gives some details about the case. It was a local court that made its decision based on the testimony of one physician, ignoring documents from all of the major medical societies in Italy. Insanely, the court based much of its arguments on the debunked and fraudulent Lancet article foisted onto the world by Mr. Andy Wakefield. The court apparently ignored the vast body of evidence that shows that there is NO LINK between MMR vaccines and autism.

  • In October 2004, a meta review, financed by the European Union, was published in the October 2004 edition of Vaccine and assessed the evidence given in 120 other studies and considered unintended effects of the MMR vaccine. The authors concluded that “exposure to MMR is unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis.”
  • In February 2005, a study compared autism in Japan before and after the 1993 withdrawal of the MMR vaccine and concluded that “MMR vaccination is most unlikely to be a main cause of ASD, that it cannot explain the rise over time in the incidence of ASD (autism spectrum disorder), and that withdrawal of MMR in countries where it is still being used cannot be expected to lead to a reduction in the incidence of ASD.”
  • In October 2005, the Cochrane Library published a review of 31 scientific studies, and concluded that, “Exposure to MMR was unlikely to be associated with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, autism or aseptic meningitis.”
  • A 2007 review of independent studies, performed after the publication of Wakefield’s fraudulent article, found that evidence did not support a causal association between vaccines and autism.
  • A 2009 review of studies on links between vaccines and autism concludes that “twenty epidemiologic studies have shown that neither thimerosal nor MMR vaccine causes autism. These studies have been performed in several countries by many different investigators who have employed a multitude of epidemiologic and statistical methods.” They also stated that the large size of these studies would have identified even minor correlations, and even then nothing was found.
There are many more articles that absolutely debunk the association between autism and MMR vaccines. It’s sad that all that money was wasted on research that was only necessary because Andy Wakefield decided to write a fraudulent article.
 
Without a lot of information, it’s hard to know what the Italian was thinking or what was its logic. Maybe, because of the bad translation, there was more to the story. Furthermore, the Italian Ministry of Health intends to appeal the ruling.
 
Italian courts may be the the epitome of great jurisprudence in Europe, that’s impossible to know. But courts make mistakes, as they do all the time in the USA, UK, or any other country. Also, judges are not experts in scientific inquiry, they are experts in law. Maybe the Italian Ministry of Health thought it was a laughable lawsuit and decided to not contest it as if it required all the medical and scientific resources in the land. But the vast body of research still doesn’t support any link between autism and MMR vaccine. So given that, the anti-vaccine conspiracists need to run to a small Italian court to get their evidence. Bring real science, and then let’s talk, but I hope that no more money is wasted on finding a non-existent link.
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