I resolved to not bother talking about Vox Day for awhile but circumstances compel me. The synergies of nonsense bind extreme nationalism, Trumpism, misogyny, creationism and antivaxxerism. It is always remarkable to see what apparently scientific studies the Alt-Right will quote as if gospel and which they will turn their selective scepticism too.
What is all this about? It is the old and thoroughly debunked canard that vaccines cause autism. The idea is rooted in two coincidences: an increase in the numbers of people diagnosed with autism (primarily due to better clinical descriptions of autism spectrum and increased awareness among doctors and the public) and the timing of when autisim symptoms are often identified at an age close to when early childhood vaccinations occur. Campaigners against vaccinations have been looking for a more substantial way of linking the two and one generic culprit has been ‘toxins’ in vaccines – i.e. various additives used in the manufacture of vaccines. For a long time the supposed guilty party was mercury, particularly in the form of thiomersal – a preservative used in some vaccines. However, studies linking the two were famously debunked and many vaccines didn’t use thiomersal or other mercury compounds anyway.
Of later the antivaxxers have been pointing their fingers at a different metal: aluminium – which is just like the metal aluminum but more British. ‘Aluminium adjuvants’ are an additive to vaccine that use aluminium. Adjuvants are any substances added to vaccines whose role is to provoke an immune response (see here for a better explanation https://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/concerns/adjuvants.html ). Tiny amounts of aluminium are added intentionally because the body’s immune system will react to the aluminium and it is that principle (which is central to the whole idea of vaccines) that has vaccination critics concerned.
Back to the study quoted. Vox Day is quoting from The Daily Mail:
BUT….the Mail article is little more than a cut and paste from here:
Which is an article by a “Chris Exley” who mainly writes alarming articles about the terrible things aluminium might do to you. Exley is quoting a study from Keele University which is available here:
And that study was conducted by three people including…Professor Chris Exley. Who, conincidentally enough is on the editorial board of the journal the study is published in:
It is a long chain and yet oddly this is a rare case where the populist half-baked version of the study is alomost directly from the scientist involved.
Now I don’t know much about Professor Exley’s field, so I can’t really comment on the validity of the methods used. The study involved detecting aluminium in a very small number of samples of brain tissue from dead people who at some point in their lives had been disagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder. There’s not much in the way of comparisons in the paper and I get the (perhaps mistaken) impression that the method is relatively new. The paper correctly concedes that “A limitation of our study is the small number of cases that were available to study and the limited availability of tissue.”
But take a critical look at the next step in the reasoning. Exley hedges what he says but Vox follows the dog whistle:
“So, the obvious question this raises is: how did so much aluminum get into the brain tissue in the first place? And the obvious answer is: from being injected with vaccines containing aluminum.” (Vox Day)
Of course a moments thought reveals that cannot be the answer. Most people do not have a diagnosed Austism Spectrum Disorder but most people are vaccinated. For Exley’s hypothesis to be correct there would need to be some additional factor, which Exley does describe in his media article:
“Perhaps there is something within the genetic make-up of specific individuals which predisposes them to accumulate and retain aluminium in their brain, as is similarly suggested for individuals with genetically passed-on Alzheimer’s disease.”
Well perhaps there is but Exley’s study doesn’t show that. More to the point, if this IS true then vaccines and aluminium adjuvants are irrelevant – we are encounter far more aluminium in our diets than we do from the tiny amounts we might get from vaccinations. Exley has zero reason to point at vaccines, indeed his speculation would imply that vaccines CANNOT be the main reason for larger amounts of aluminium in his samples because neccesarily bigger sources are more likely.
Exley appears to be trying to join two different healthscare bandwagons together: general concerns about aluminium in stuff (see his other posts) and antivaxxerism.
Is the study itself flawed? As I said, I don’t know but the connection the paper makes to vaccines has zero substance and no evidence from the study itself. That in itself should have raised red flags with reviewers.
In the past, I’d have gone to Science Blogs for some extra background on something like this but that venerable home of blogs has been wound down.
Luckily ‘Orac’ of Respectful Insolence has set up their own blog here https://respectfulinsolence.com/ and has a deep dive into Exley’s paper here:
Yup, it is as dodgy as somebody dodging things in a dodgy dodge. Orac points out the dubious funding source:
“The second time, I noted that he’s one of a group of scientists funded by the Child Medical Safety Research Institute (CMSRI), which is a group funded by Claire and Al Dwoskin, who are as rabidly antivaccine as anyone I’ve seen, including even Mike Adams. Among that group of antivaccine “scientists” funded by CMSRI? Anthony Mawson, Christopher Shaw, Lucija Tomljenovic, and Yehuda Shoenfeld, antivaccine crank “scientists” all. And guess what? This study was funded by CMSRI, too. Fair’s fair. If antivaxers can go wild when a study is funded by a pharmaceutical company and reject it out of hand, I can point out that a study funded by an antivaccine “foundation” is deserving of more scrutiny and skepticism.”
And it just gets worse from there. No controls, some tiny sample jiggery-pokery with the numbers and so on. Best read directly.