Of Carpets and Carpetbaggers or The Mismeasure of Autism.
If you live in the UK you will appreciate the frustration that I feel in a carpet showroom when the carpet roll is 12 or 18 feet wide but is sold by the metre. How am I supposed to make sense of metric and imperial measures when they are mixed? Of course I am not supposed to. I am supposed to ask the salesman who will perform all the calculations for me and offer the firm's free fitting service providing I buy the necessary underlay, grippers and how about the optional stain guard treatment, sir?
I felt a similar sense of frustration when confronted by the "Put Children First" ad in USA Today last Thursday. It starts by claiming a 6000 per cent increase in autism. Even if this were true what does it mean? I asked a few people. Most of them thought it meant there were six thousand times as many people with autism and I am not sure that they all fully understood or accepted my explanation that it actually meant sixty times as many. 6000 per cent does mean 60 tmes as many. But it sounds bigger and scarier.
The ad continues:
We believe the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) knows that the ambitious
immunization schedule begun in the 1990s, nearly tripling the amount of
mercury injected into our children, created an epidemic of autism in America.
As long as the CDC denies that mercury from vaccines is responsible for this epidemic,proper treatment will never be made widely available to the more than
one million American children who could be treated today.
So it all began 16 years ago and now there are over a million autistic children. According to the US census there were 76,454,410 children aged 18 and under in the year 2000. But the birthrate has been falling. It used to be just over 4 million a year. Now it is just under 4 million. So I am guessing that there are less children today. Let us say 75 million. And one million of those are autistic!
A BIG PROBLEM
That was enough for me to visit the Put Children First web site and find out more. But then I hit a BIG problem. The website is arranged in chapters and in chapter one I read
In the 1980s the incidence of autism was somewhere between 1 in 10,000 and 1 in 5,000, today it is 1 in 150.
My BIG problem was that the ad in USA Today had claimed one million (out of an estimated 75 million) children with autism. That is the same as saying 1 in 75. But they just said it was 1 in 150 which makes only half a million. Which figure should I believe?
I felt like I was back in the carpet shop trying to juggle incompatible measures in my head. I do not think the number of children in the USA has doubled since 2000. I think we would have heard about it on the news. So one of those figures had to be wrong. My guess is that the advertising people got the figures wrong and it was too late to do anything about it so they put the correct figures on the website. You would have thought they could have pointed that out to people, though.
INCIDENCE OR PREVALENCE?
So I thought I better check all the figures just in case. First I had to sort out what incidence means. When you are dealing with statistics it is important not to get incidence and prevalence muddled up. Incidence refers to the number of new cases in a population over a period of time. Prevalence refers to the total number of cases in a given population at a specific time.
If Put Children First, Generation Rescue, Safe Minds and all the other organizations that believe we have an autism epidemic caused by mercury in vaccines are right then the incidence ought to go down very quickly now that nearly all childhood vaccines are mercury free. But the prevalence will go down a lot more slowly becauase of all the vaccine damaged children already out there; especially if they do not get the treatments that are supposed to cure mercury induced autism.
THE CURIOUS INCIDENCE
With this in mind I checked the figures for autism incidence before all the mercury went into the vaccines. And I checked the figures with Mark Blaxill, who is a board member for Safe Minds. Not with him personally, of course. I checked them with a presentation he gave to the Institute of Medicine. This brought me back to my BIG problem again. Because Put Children First had said on their website that incidence used to be between 1 and 2 in 10000. But the studies of autism from that period in the USA that Mark Blaxill quoted to the Institute of Medicine were nearly all over 3 in 10.000. (One study was just under 2.5 in 10,000 and the overall average was just under 3.1 so we'll call it 3 in 10,000 to be fair.)
Now, I can understand the advertising agency getting their figures wrong. But when Put Children First gets it so wrong on their website I begin to wonder. And in case you think I am quibbling over numbers like is it between 1 and 2 or is it 3, just think. If we were doing the sums today on 75 million American children, 1 in 10,000 = 7500 children and 3 in 10,000 = 22,500 children. That is a big difference. OK, it is not so big as the difference between the 1 million mistake in the ad and the real figure of 500,000, but it would still be a big difference for those kids and their parents.
PIC 'n' MIX AUTISM?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) there may be a prevalence of 1 in 166 which is the same as saying 6 in 1000. The Medical Research Council in the UK (MRC) agrees. It puts the figure at 60 in 10,000. All these figures describe an identical prevalence rate but are written differently. This does not matter when the figures are the same. But if you are comparing 1 in 150 with 66 in 10,000 which is the biggest?
Actually 1 in 150 and 66 in 10,000 are both the same. Which brings me back to my BIG problem. Put Children First seem to be using the smallest figure they can find for how autism used to be (1 in a 10000) and the biggest figure they can find for autism today (1 in 150) so that when you do the sums you get that big scary 6000 per cent in the ad.
But the ad got the number totally wrong. So maybe the percentage is wrong as well. I checked.
- From 1 in 10,000 to 66 in 10,000 is 66 times bigger or 6600 per cent.
- From 1 in 10,000 to 60 in 10,000 is 60 times bigger or 6000 per cent.
- From 3 in 10,000 to 66 in 10,000 is 22 times bigger or 2200 per cent.
- From 3 in 10,000 to 60 in 10,000 is 20 times bigger or 2000 per cent.
So the only way you can get the 6000 per cent figure in the ad is with option 2 where you have to pic 'n' mix the figures from Put Children First and the CDC. I do not trust that 1 in 10,000. If the figure had been that low in the past I am sure Mark Blaxill would have mentioned it in his talk to the Institute of Medicine. So I am going to trust his figures for autism in the past and the CDC for autism today. My pic 'n' mix is option 4, 2000 per cent.
CARPETBAGGERS For AUTISM?
Put Children First's numbers for autism seem to be different from everybody else's. Their ad has doubled the number of autistic children and tripled the percentage figure. Now, Put Children First is an offshoot of Generation Rescue that was set up by J.B. Handley. He is a very astute businessman who would surely have to approve those figures before spending $100,400 on a full page ad. And what about Robert Kennedy? Either he or his office must have looked at those figures before letting them put his name on the ad. But there it is in big letters just after the 6000 per cent.
IT’S TIME FOR THE CDC TO COME CLEAN
WITH THE AMERICAN PUBLIC…”
- Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., March 2, 2006
You do not get to be as rich or successful as J.B. Handley and R.F. Kennedy Junior by making mistakes like that. They have to know that those figures are wrong but they are carrying on because it suits their purpose. I do not know what that purpose is but they are less like the carpet salesman who began this post and more like carpetbaggers.
The term "carpetbagger" is used to describe "an outsider who moves someplace to exploit the natives and enrich himself at their expense," or "politicians who move to a new jurisdiction solely to meet a residency requirement for holding public office."
Now I am thinking that if I cannot trust their figures why should I trust anything else they say about autism, mercury and the CDC? What do other people think?