Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Opinions are like......; everybody's got one.

Just a quick mid-week post today.

I've been noticing lately how many people in the blogosphere are under the (mistaken) impression that their ability to form an opinion means that their opinion is somehow valid. This is generally true on the Internet, but especially true in one particular corner of the Web...

Examples:

From a lawyer with no training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry:

"Autism is mercury poisoning!"

From a venture capitalist with no training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry:

"Autism is mercury poisoning!"

From a marketing consultant with no training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry:

"Autism is mercury poisoning!"

What would these same people say if I, a humble molecular biologist with no training in law, investing or marketing presumed to tell them that they were dead wrong about something in their fields? I imagine that laughter would be the nicest thing I could expect - and it would be well deserved! After all, who am I to think that my uneducated opinion about those matters amounts to anything?

Yet, strangely enough, they seem to think that - despite their lack of training, experience or education in biology, medicine or chemistry, they have mastered all of the subtleties of the issues surrounding autism.

Yes, life is stranger than fiction!

Let's dispose of the "elephant in the living room" at the outset. These people (and many more just like them) have no idea what they're talking about - they are just repeating what they've been told. For the most part, they have no more comprehension of the biology of autism than my goldfish does.

These same people, who wax eloquent on the "devastation" that mercury has wreaked on the immune system, couldn't describe the functions of B-cells and T-cells to save their lives. Likewise, they dismiss out of hand any suggestion of a genetic contribution to autism without the slightest understanding of genetics. In fact, I would be willing to bet that most of them don't even know how many chromosomes they have (answer: 46).

What they do have is someone that they "trust", who has told them what they want to hear, namely:

[1] "I know exactly what caused your child's autism." (as opposed to what an honest doctor would tell them, namely that nobody really knows what causes autism yet)

[2] "Your child's autism is not your fault." (probably true, but again, without knowing the cause, who can say?)

[3] "Someone else caused your child's autism." (a nice way to focus anger externally and keep from dealing with the feelings of loss and grief - not true, however, since nobody really knows what causes autism)

[4] "I know how to make your child better." (I suspect that most actually believe this - it still doesn't make them right, and they most likely are not)

These answers contrast sharply with the truths (added parenthetically above), which are neither comforting nor satisfying, but have the advantage of being true. However, given the choice between a pleasant fairy tale and an unpleasant truth, most people opt for the fairy tale. It's just human nature.

At some point, most (but certainly not all) of the people who take the fairy tale option will come to realize the truth - that they have bought in to a version of the world that is not "in synch" with reality. When that happens, most will simply drop out of the "support groups", rallies, e-mail lists and blogs and go back to quietly living their lives in the real world.

Fortunately, more and more of these people are coming forward to tell their stories to the world, to talk about how they bought the fairy tale and were led down the garden path. Most are not angry with those who misled them or out to "put things right". The ones I have corresponded with simply want to put their stories in front of parents - to let them make up their own minds.

Contrast this with the strident and angry tones of the autism-mercury Crusaders, who do everything in their power to silence all dissent and squash all skepticism.

So, what can you learn from all this?

The calm, quiet parents have been there...and back.
The angry ones are still living in the fairy tale.


Prometheus

17 Comments:

Anonymous Fore Sam said...

You forgot to include the chemists and doctors who say autism is mercury poisoning.

22 February, 2006 04:52  
Blogger notmercury said...

Fabulous! You've really captured the psychology and, having witnessed it from both sides, I can say that your words ring true. A few short years ago I would have strongly disagreed with anyone who disagreed with my belief system.

Mr. Fore Sam,
Are you willing to accept the possibility you are wrong and autism is not caused by mercury? Any reasonable person would.

Those chemists and doctors you speak of, how many can you list? If they can be counted on one hand, compare that number to countless numbers of their colleagues who disagree. Have you arrived at an odds ratio yet? Would you bet your life savings on that kind of a long shot?

Ask any one of them to present their research to the peer review process and it falls apart. Why? All part of a conspiracy to poison the nation's children or simply sloppy work?

Before you start complaining about how difficult it is to raise a child like yours and your regular doctors had nothing to offer, save it. I sympathize with you and I have firsthand experience, but you don't hold the exclusive on raising a child with special needs.

I'm happy to hear your child is more manageable since you've started chelation but I resent the way you've chosen to spread your message that all autism is mercury poisoning based on your very limited observations.

If your child suddenly became non-autistic within an impossibly short period of time you might have earned the right to tell others. If a significant number of those children improved dramatically then there would be no need to continue your crusade.

None of these things have happened or you wouldn't be here predicting the future with "My son is recovering with chelation and that's all the proof I need."

Go back and read what Prometheus said here and, as an exercise, try to imagine how you may have fallen victim to any of the pitfalls he's described. An honest man should be able to do that. At least try.

22 February, 2006 05:34  
Blogger Do'C said...

You forgot to include the chemists and doctors who say autism is mercury poisoning.

This is really enlighting on the whole perspective. Fore Sam, you've hit the nail on the head. The "chemists" and "doctors" you likely refer to "say" autism is mercury poisoning.

22 February, 2006 07:01  
Blogger bonni said...

Allow me to share one of my favorite quotes. I heard Andre Agassi say this at a news conference at the Australian Open a couple years ago. I don't know what it was referencing (I don't really follow tennis), but the quote was fabulous.

"That's the thing with opinions. You don't have to know anything to have one."

22 February, 2006 08:12  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

You forgot to include the chemists and doctors who say autism is mercury poisoning.

Of course, I don't go by people's say-so. I go by physical, reproducible evidence.

22 February, 2006 08:20  
Anonymous Fore Sam said...

Bronze Dog;
You don't disagree with Prometheus' opinion but you do disagree with other scientists who have shown that he is wrong. Has Prometheus shown that they are wrong or is he just stating his opinion?

22 February, 2006 11:27  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

The "scientists" who disagree with Prometheus and me don't present valid arguments. (At least none that I've been able to find.)

Prometheus's tenative conclusion is based on the invalidity of advocate "arguments."

My tenative conclusion is based on the invalidity of advocate arguments.

We both arrived at the same conclusion because we have the same basis.

If our conclusion is wrong, present a valid argument in favor of the mercury-autism link. (Hint: Anecdotes like yours are invalid.)

22 February, 2006 11:48  
Blogger Bronze Dog said...

*Clarification: Anecdotes are inherently invalid. Yours included, Fore Sam.

22 February, 2006 11:50  
Blogger Flea said...

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I trust you've seen this. Thank you so much for being sharp about this. I reference you in my blog today

I'm going to add you to my blogroll today as well. Fantastic site!

best,

Flea

22 February, 2006 12:13  
Blogger Dikkii said...

Prometheus,

You wrote:

"What would these same people say if I, a humble molecular biologist with no training in law, investing or marketing presumed to tell them that they were dead wrong about something in their fields? I imagine that laughter would be the nicest thing I could expect - and it would be well deserved! After all, who am I to think that my uneducated opinion about those matters amounts to anything?"

This is absolutely correct.

The number of arguments I had with my housemates over the years over economics (I studied it) when they were a physicist, a software engineer and a vet respectively.

If I had argued with them over atoms, perl or tapeworm treatments, I would have been laughed out of the house. And rightly so.

You have a great blog - I do my best to read it regularly.

22 February, 2006 17:16  
Blogger Prometheus said...

Fore,

The problem is that the "chemists and doctors [shouldn't that be "chemist"?] who say autism is mercury poisoning" aren't providing any data to back up their assertions.

For example - Dr. Haley has shown that mercury kills immortalized nerve cells in tissue culture (which are rather different from actual neurons). So what? Soap kills nerve cells in tissue culture, as do UV light, sodium chloride and iron. Are all of these possible causes of autism as well?

Finding a way that mercury can injure nerve cells or immune cells or intestinal cells is not the same as "proving" that mercury causes autism. In fact, its a very long way from even suggesting that mercury causes autism.

As I've said before, I want to believe you, but you're not giving me anything to work with.

Try data.


Prometheus.

22 February, 2006 18:07  
Blogger Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

I can only quote the slogan of The Reality-Based Community:
"Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts."

Keep up the good work!

26 February, 2006 20:45  
Anonymous Rolf Marvin Bøe Lindgren said...

There seems actually to be data supporting the claim that there's a positive link between mercury in vaccines and autism:

Autism Rates Drop After Mercury Removed From Childhood Vaccines

Disclaimer: I don't know anybody who suffers from autism and all of my three children have been subject to the recommended vaccination schedule, on the assumption that even if the critics are right the risks assocated with witholding vaccination are greater.

04 March, 2006 15:15  
Anonymous HCN said...

Rolf, please read the other more recent comment. Note that the article is quoting the political rag "Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons"... which is not indexed in PubMed.

I've posted this on Bartholomew Cubbins blog and twice on Left Hand/Right Hand (check the Favorite Blog list on the right of this blogs page)... but here it is again:

That was very interesting. Especially their choice of publication.

One the benefits of being around this kind of discussion for almost a decade is that one can have a historical perspecitive.

I actually remember when AAPS changed their website journal (it used to be "Medical Sentinal"). Anyway, I posted this on Kevin Leitch's blog, but it bears repeating.

Okay, about that “journal” and its group. One of it members, Jane Orient (was an Executive Director) participated in the Healthfraud listserv for a while.

I spent more than a few minutes digging up some of her posts and responses to her in its archives:

Threads she participated in (click on the threads to read them), the healthfraud listserv archives are not user friendly.

A notice of her suspension.

And finally a notice of “ Jane Orient and her Antivaccination Gang ”, actually an announcement that AAPS is online.
...

This is the entire thread (she does respond, saying she is being “gagged”).

If you have time, it is sometimes fun to click through some of those older threads to see what has come and gone.

06 March, 2006 08:08  
Blogger Theo said...

I know I'm a little late, but I thought I'd give the full version of the aphorism you use in the title:

Opinions are like......; everybody's got one… and everybody else's stinks.

03 April, 2006 04:56  
Anonymous Ford said...

I may not be a moleculer biologist, but I can find plenty of chemists who think there is a link. Prometheous, I respect your opinion in the matter because you are an expert in the field, but by the same token I respect theirs as well.

http://www.whale.to/vaccine/chem.html
http://www.newmediaexplorer.org/sepp/2006/03/07/eu_mental_health_decline_due_to_mercury_poisoning_chemist.htm
http://uplink.space.com/showflat.php?Cat=&Board=humanbio&Number=173781&page=0&view=collapsed&sb=5&o=0&fpart=
http://www.northeastern.edu/leadershipcampaign/faculty/deth.html
http://www.geocities.com/autism_mercury/faq.htm
http://www.drgreene.com/21_1897.html
I probably could have listed about a hundred more, but it is very time consuming. As a molecular biologist, I am sure you could direct me to a scientific study that proves the safety of Thimerosal. I have looked, and I have had a hard time finding any.

18 June, 2006 19:53  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hasn't thimerosol been removed from childhood vaccines for a couple of years now? Has the rate of autism changed?

04 April, 2007 07:05  

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