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[REWIND] Barack Obama 2008: ‘Americans… must know the health effects that are caused by the presence of mercury in vaccines’

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Posted by Orac on April 22, 2008:

Well, so much for Hillary Clinton’s and Barack Obama’s reputations for supposedly being well-informed about scientific issues. True, they didn’t sink as far into the stupid as John McCain didabout vaccines and autism, but what they said was bad enough. Let’s put it this way: If David Kirbythinks what they said about vaccines and autism is just great, they seriously need to fire all their medical advisors and get new ones who know how to evaluate evidence:Obama-2008

No matter who wins in Pennsylvania today, the next President of the United States will support research into the growing evidence of some link between vaccines and autism.

Senator John McCain has already expressed his belief that vaccines and the mercury containing preservative thimerosal could be implicated in what he has rightly termed an “autism epidemic.”

Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a questionaire from the autism activist group A-CHAMP, wrote that she was “Committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines.” And when asked if she would support a study of vaccinated vs. unvaccinated children, she said: “Yes. We don’t know what, if any, kind of link there is between vaccines and autism – but we should find out.”

And now, yesterday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Barack Obama had this rather surprising thing to say:

“We’ve seen just a skyrocketing autism rate. Some people are suspicious that it’s connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it.”

True, this is not quite as bad as John McCain’s incredible ignorance, but it’s pretty bad.

Obama’s statement, even if the interpretation that his saying “this person included” was referring to someone in the crowd and not referring to himself, is nonetheless particularly ignorant and egregious. The science is quite conclusive thus far that vaccines do not cause autism and becomes more convincing every year. Obama is just plain wrong about implying that vaccines have something to do with an “autism epidemic,” and he was wrong when his campaign supplied this reply to a questionnaire sent to the candidates by A-CHAMP. I’m not going to go through all of the candidates’ responses to the questions, mainly because most of them consisted of only the most vacuous and vapid of soothing political pander-language that looks like it’s saying something but really isn’t. For example, this is Obama’s answer to one question:

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Are you satisfied that the federal vaccine approval process is free of conflicts of interests, transparent and rigorous?

As President, I will conduct a thorough examination of all federal programs to ensure that they are effective and operating in the best interests of the American people. And I will ensure that sound and unbiased science, not ideology, guides decisions made in my administration.

That’s about as vacuous and controversy-free as a politician can make it, as is Hillary Clinton’s reply to the very same question:

I believe that we need independent, thorough, and comprehensive testing of all drugs, including vaccines, to make sure that they are safe and effective. I will ensure that the process of approving vaccines is based on science and research – not ideology or other motives. I will do everything I can to protect the health and well-being of American families.

Such boilerplate language doesn’t need a dose of Respectful Insolence™ because it says nothing of substance that is worth beating on for anything other than the fact that it says nothing of substance. However, this response by Barack Obama to the questionnaire does deserve a heapin’ helpin’ of not-so-Respectful Insolence™:

Do you believe there is an autism epidemic in the United States?

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the United Sates and, perhaps the world.. One in 150 children is diagnosed with ASD. These numbers can not be explained solely by increased awareness or changes to the diagnostic criteria. It is a health crisis and I will act accordingly. There are many Americans with special needs. They will have a partner in the federal government under my administration.

Wrong, Senator ObamaJust plain wrong.

The evidence strongly suggests that it is indeed a combination of increased awareness, changes in the diagnostic criteria in the early 1990s, and diagnostic substitution that is responsible for the appearance of an autism “epidemic.” Steve Novella summarized the evidence nicely and put it well:

It should also be noted that all of this research, while supporting the hypothesis that the rise in autism diagnoses is not due to a true increase in the incidence but rather is due to a broadening of the definition and increased surveillance, does not rule out a small genuine increase in the true incidence. A small real increase can be hiding in the data. There is no evidence upon which we can conclude, however, that true autism rates are increasing.

Of course the implications of this are profound. If there is no autism epidemic, if there is a “stable incidence” of autism over recent decades, then this alone is powerful evidence against the vaccine hypothesis – and in fact removes the primary piece of evidence for a vaccine-autism connection. Just as a true increase in incidence would have called out for an environmental factor causing autism, the lack of any increase argues strongly against any environment factor – especially when this is combined with the copious evidence for multiple genetic factors as the ultimate cause(s) of ASD.

In other words, it’s possible that autism rates may have increased slightly, but multiple studies refute Barack Obama’s contention that the autism “epidemic” cannot be explained well by the broadening of the diagnostic criteria that occurred 15 years ago. There’s no way around it; Obama’s just plain wrong about this, pure and simple. Hillary Clinton’s reply is only marginally better. Although she doesn’t ignorantly dismiss the likelihood that broadened diagnostic criteria and diagnostic substitution are primarily at work here, she too believes there is an autism epidemic:

Do you believe there is an autism epidemic in the United States?

Yes. Today, one in 150 children rare diagnosed with autism, for a total of about 25,000 each year. In sum, about 1.5 million Americans and their families are affected by autism today. This national health crisis is costing the United States at least $35 billion each year. I have long been a strong advocate for individuals and families impacted by autism. I have cosponsored the Combating Autism Act and introduced the Expanding the Promise for Individuals with Autism Act, in order to ensure that Americans living with autism could have access as quickly as possible to evidence-based treatments, interventions, and services. When I am President, I will dramatically boost research funding for autism and support services for families caring for an autistic loved one.

And what about the positions of the candidates on whether there is a link between vaccines and autism? First, Barack Obama:

Do you think vaccines should be investigated as a possible cause of autism?

I believe that the next president must restore confidence and open communication with the American people. This includes environmental policies and government funded research. An Obama administration will go where the science and the facts lead us, whether it is about climate change or toxic heavy metals in our environment.

Would you support a large-scale federal study of the differences in health outcomes between vaccinated and unvaccinated groups

Experience has taught that effective medical research must be “large-scale” and well funded. I believe Americans should know must know the health effects that caused by the presence of mercury in vaccines. I will also support an examination of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation program, a program designed to compensate those injured by vaccinations.

The first reply was nothing more than vapid, content-free, vague politician-speak, but for the second answer the stupid, it truly burns. (Yes, Obama deserves that richly in this instance.) Clearly, the Obama campaign seems not to believe the multiple large, well-designed epidemiological studies that have failed to find a link between vaccines and autism or between mercury in vaccines and autism…(read more)

Respectful Insolence – Twitter credit –  and 

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