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MMR & Autism

There’s a belief out there that the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination is linked to autism, with some scientific sounding hypothesis as to what the causal link is. The BBC is reporting on a study done by Hideo Honda of the Yokohama Rehabilitation Center, along with Yasuo Shimizu and Michael Rutter of the Institute of Psychiatry in London. New Scientist has detailed science, which I’m not going to wade through here. The short form is that Yokohama, Japan stopped administering the MMR vaccine, and autism continued to rise. This is strong evidence against the hypothesis that MMR vaccine causes autism.

However, autism campaigners said they would want to see more conclusive proof from UK-based studies before being convinced the jab was safe.

I’m sorry to break it to the campaigners (who are unlikely to be reading this anyway), but you don’t get conclusive proof. You get disproofs. That’s the result of a good experiment, the new knowledge that some theory is wrong. What more can you ask for than a study that shows “eliminate agent X, Y continues unabated.” If we had a theory that nitrogen gas was integral to things burning, and we eliminated nitrogen, and a log kept burning, then we would know that theory was wrong. Ditto, MMR. Autism is a huge challenge for parents, but MMR doesn’t cause it.

3 comments on "MMR & Autism"

  • Adam, are you applying different standards of proof in different posts?
    In post 950 you say “What I’m asking for is a well thought out argument that ID cards won’t enable catastrophic failures.”
    So what’s wrong with MMR campaigners asking for something more than statistical reassurance?
    There seems to be some evidence of measles in the gut associated with some cases of autism. Nobody knows how the measles got into the gut, but the MMR jab is a prime suspect. For that matter, a single measles jab is also a suspect. The Japanese study doesn’t show that the MMR jab is safe, but appears to show that it’s no more risky than a single measles jab.
    Some MMR campaigners have produced exaggerated and dogmatic claims, suggesting that MMR is uniquely bad. But then we also have people who make exaggerated claims about the evils of ID cards.
    But there is an important difference – choice. At least in the UK we can choose whether to give our children the MMR jab, or single measles jab, or no jab at all. But if ID cards become compulsory, there is no opt-out.

  • Well, it also makes sense to repeat important experiments that will affect a lot of people.

  • adam says:

    Hi Richard,
    All you can get is statistical reassurance that MMR isn’t a causal agent. What this study shows (presuming its repeatable) is that removing MMR does not reduce autism. Removing MMR (without substituting the old 3 vaccines) has clear public health costs.
    As to “exagerated evils” of ID cards, the recent genocide in Rwanda made extensive use of ID cards, because Tutsi and Hutus are not physically distinguishable. That’s a pretty substantial evil.

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