Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Vaccine Studies and Autism: Which are Accurate?

Article first published as Vaccine Studies and Autism: Which are Accurate? on Technorati.
Two boys with autism sit on a bench.Recently an article published in the Examiner brought up the old "vaccines may cause autism" argument by questioning the authenticity of the Danish autism and vaccine study. The article alleges fraud on the part of the Danish research group by not disclosing the decrease in Danish instances of autism after usage of mercury in vaccines stopped.

The argument that vaccines and autism correlate has been hashed out again and again, often to the point of absurdity, with proponents of both sides being dead set that they are right and the rest of the world is conspiring against them. Personally, (bias revealed), I am inclined to believe that vaccines have little if anything to do with autism rates due to the increased evidence linked to Biology and genetics. Still, I ran through a lot of research to get my facts right, and realized there are several published studies trying to link autism to vaccines and mercury poisoning, or trying to disprove the study.

So which is right? How can you know which study to believe, and which to approach with healthy doses of salt? Well, as I'm not an MD, biologist, neurochemist, or biochemist, I have to rely on others to review the materials and report their findings.

One way to do that is to check the citations. Often a study will be cited for two reasons: either it was so good that everyone wants to show it as a foundation to their research, or it was so bad that it is used as an example of a disagreeing study that conflicts with your findings because of it's poor execution. That means that based on citation alone, you can't trust a published research study. Nope, you need to rely on critical research reviews.

Critical reviews takes a sampling of research data and reviews their findings. They review based on several criteria, such as how well the study can be reproduced, the rigor of the data accumulation, the margin of error in the statistical number crunching, etc. While not publishing new content themselves, these reviews serve as a critical baseline for existing research to determine what is good science, and what needs more work.

Based on this understanding of a critical review, I dug one up on autism, thimerosal, vaccines, and causation for review. The results found that those studies that supported a link between thimerosal and autism were poorly executed and difficult to reproduce, while those that found little to no link between vaccines containing thimerosal and an increase in autism.

Now, granted, this is not a perfect way to determine a cause for autism, hence the reason why no single cause has been found. But it is a great way to see a trend in the research, determine which research is more promising in it's results, and which research is employing accurate, scientific methods to reach their conclusions. That being said, new research is being done every day, and it can only help us better understand such a complex and baffling condition as autism.

But, ultimately, discovering a "cause" doesn't help children on the spectrum much in the short term. Sure, it's nice to know, but those individuals that have it will still need the resources available to help them learn and grow, to become better contributors to society. So, while it's nice to know a cause, I think it's better to know how to help those in need now.

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