We have discussed genes and autism before – an article, along with an accompanying editorial, was published in the peer-reviewed JAMA Psychiatry in 2019 examined the genetics of autism. They found that approximately 80% of the cause of autism was genes from the mother and father (since that’s the only way genes get to a child).
The old Skeptical Raptor is taking a bit of a break over the next few days to recharge his batteries for all of the pseudoscience that will be coming out in 2020. In lieu of new content, I will be republishing the top 10 most read articles on this blog during 2019. Here’s number 2 – the MTHFR gene and vaccines.
We call them zombie vaccine tropes, beliefs of the anti-vaccine world that keep reinventing themselves and come back alive, despite being dismembered by skeptics and scientists all of the world. One of the most annoying zombie tropes has been the MTHFR gene and vaccines – the trope states that it’s dangerous to vaccinate a child with the MTHFR gene mutation, which really isn’t supported by scientific evidence.
I never know what causes these types of tropes to arise in the first place, and then, why they return from the dead, but the MTHFR gene and vaccines myth seems to be one of them. Let’s take a look at the MTHFR gene, and why there is not really any issues linked between it and vaccines.
Almost all legitimate science researchers who focused on autism never bought into the vaccines link. Not only was there no evidence of this imaginary link (thanks to the cunning fraud Andrew Wakefield), when scientists went looking for a possible link, they never found one.
However, investigators have been searching for legitimate underlying etiologies for ASD – the hypothesis that genetics cause autism has been the center of research for years.
You’ve seen these advertisements on TV. Get one of these DNA kits, give them a sample of your DNA along with a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, and mail it to one of the DNA testing companies. Wait some time, and they send back information about your ancestry, potential diseases, and other information.
There seems to be a strange belief that if these DNA kits say you’re 28% German, or 37% Italian, or 13% Japanese, it speaks the truth. Anecdotally, I’ve had boatloads of friends get this test done, and they take pride in their new or confirmed ethnicity. And I won’t even go into the scares some have had from the presumptive medical diagnoses made from some genetic marker found in the result.
23andMe, one of the leading companies in mail order DNA kits, has had a roller-coaster relationship with US FDA. After all of the back and forth, the FDA has stated that 23andMe can market their tests for genetic testing, but cannot market them as diagnostic tests. I’m not sure the public will see the difference in that.
However, I’m going to focus on what bothers me about these tests – they are becoming the basis of some kind of scientific racism. We are highlighting, and sometimes misrepresenting, patterns of differences in human species by a sampling of genes.
I have a love-hate relationship with the internet. I love that I can Google a question like “who was the second basemen for the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1960 World Series?” It was Bill Mazeroski for those who care. I don’t love that you can search for “MTHFR gene mutations,” and get a lot of nonsense.
Although I think that Wikipedia needs to be used skeptically, it is a wonderful fountain of delicious knowledge. I sometimes just read random Wikipedia articles, and I enjoy the writing, scholarship and knowledge. Some articles, like World War II or the Roman Empire, are truly detailed pieces of scholarship.
But sometimes, the internet does a disservice to mankind, especially when medical information (or really disinformation) is presented as fact. Like vaccines cause autism. No, it doesn’t. Seriously, it doesn’t.
Or that high fructose corn syrup causes obesity and diabetes. No it doesn’t (except that eating a lot of any sugar might do that).
But the newest one, at least for me, is that MTHFR gene mutations cause nearly every disease known to mankind, and is a reason why vaccines can be dangerous. Seriously, apparently MTHFR gene mutations are the root of all health evil, and the mutation is caused by…anything.
This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that. Besides, racism sucks – obviously.
Racism or xenophobia has probably been around since humans first evolved 200,000 years ago. I’m sure Grunting Human 1 hated Grunting Human 2, because 2 had funny looking ears. Or something.
I’m sure some evolutionary biologist can explain why racism exists. It probably was a biologically favored behavioral strategy to protect one’s own group, because of access to resources. Or something like that.
My job here is to push science, and push it hard. And I’m not pushing “science” as some esoteric philosophy of academia, but as a relatively easy system of gathering evidence in support of (or alternatively, in refutation of) what people believe. There isn’t some button you push to get “science”, even though way too many people think that click on a Google search qualifies as science (and evidence supporting their “science”). I try to call out false equivalences, that is, that all evidence is equal, even if one side of the “debate” has low quality or even no evidence. I try to provide methods to rank evidence, so that an average reader can get an indication of the quality of evidence supporting a pseudoscientific or anti-science belief, which allows anyone to make a better critical analysis of what is written.
But sometimes, you don’t even need science. Just common sense, something woefully lacking in many of the anti-science memes that seem to easily circulate across social media these days.