David Kirby is out to hunch

David Kirby, author of “Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic” has finally agreed that there is no autism epidemic.

“My hunch (and yes, that is all it is) is that most of these kids do not have “autism” at all, and it’s probably time we started calling it something else.”

He calls this “something else” Environmentally-acquired Neuroimmune Disorder. And he no longer thinks that it had to be caused by mercury in vaccines. Now the mercury is gone it is being caused by

 “radical changes in our environment over the last 10-20 years. There is something, or more likely some things in our modern air, water, food and drugs that are making genetically susceptible children sick, and we need to find out what they are.”

So all the award winning journalism that went into the book, all the scientific research he quotes to support the idea of an autism epidemic caused by mercury in vaccines, all this is dismissed on the basis of a hunch. Oh, and there is the small fact that, contrary to Kirby’s prediction, autism is not going into decline now that all mandatory vaccines for children in the US are mercury free.

My hunch is different to Kirby’s. My hunch is that the people he listened to were wrong. The science he quoted was wrong. The book he wrote was wrong. And his latest response shows that he is still wrong.

He begins with an appeal for sympathy.

“I continue to be vilified by critics who insist that mercury does not cause autism, that autism is a stable genetic condition, and that it cannot be an “epidemic.””

Vilified? His ideas have been criticized. He has been presented with counter arguments. But personal vilification? I suggest he visits the Hating Autism blog to read some really vile things written by one of his supporters about autistic adults who disagree with him.

He goes on to propose a truce with the “neurodiversity” community. His quote marks suggest he does not fully accept the validity of the concept of neurodiversity. He certainly does not understand it. For he goes on to refer to the “neurodiverse” as synonymous with Asperger Syndrome. I suggest he reads my article on Neurodiversity and Kev’s excellent blog from yesterday.

The nature of the truce is this. He supports the rights of the “neurodiverse” to be respected and accepted. But he wants them to accept that they have nothing in common with the really severe autistic children he has met. 

  1. I am talking about kids who begin talking and then, suddenly, never say another word.
  2. I’m talking about kids who may never learn to read, write, tie their shoes or fall in love.
  3. I’m talking about kids who sometimes wail in torture at three in the morning because something inside them hurts like a burning coal, but they can’t say what or where it is.
  4. I’m talking about kids who can barely keep food in their inflamed, distressed guts, and when they do, it winds up in rivers of diarrhea or swirls of feces spread on a favorite carpet or pet (no one said this kind of “autism” was pretty).
  5. I’m talking about kids who escape from their home in a blaze of alarms, only to be found hours later, freezing, alone and wandering the Interstate.
  6. I’m talking about kids who have bitten their mother so hard and so often, they are on a first name basis at the emergency room.
  7. I’m talking about kids who spin like fireworks until they fall and crack their heads, kids who will play with a pencil but not with their sister, kids who stare at nothing and scream at everything and don’t even realize it when their dad comes home from work.

These are the kids I want to see cured. And I don’t believe they have “autism.”

Let us go through that list.

  1. This looks like regressive autism. It accounts for a minority of autistic cases but figures are hard to come by as it is not always certain whether studies are measuring it against DSM-IV autism,  or with the whole autistic spectrum.  There is a further confound because, as I argued in a much earlier blog, much of the evidence for regression comes from parental reports. And it is not always clear whether they are reporting regression or failure to meet expected milestones. It is also necessary to exercise caution when dealing with parental evidence. […]“ A review of each record showed that in 13 children the history given by the parents had changed after the extensive publicity about MMR vaccine and autism. Before the publicity the parents often reported concerns early in their child’s life, usually before their first birthday; the current history for the same children recorded symptoms as developing only after MMR vaccination, in some cases shortly after.”
    (Taylor, Miller, Lingam, Andrews, Simmons & Stowe (2002) Measles, mumps, and rubella vaccination and bowel problems or developmental regression in children with autism: population study British Medical Journal, 2002, Vol. 324, pp. 393-396)
  2. This describes a lot of the children I teach. Some are autistic. Some are not. And note Kirby’s use of “may never.” Hardly a reliable diagnostic criteria.
  3. These children are ill and should be taken to see a doctor.
  4. Ditto. It would be interesting to discover if gut problems are more prevalent in autistic children and, if so, why. But in epidemiological studies where full health checks are done on all the autistic children who are identified, they have found the same rate of gastro-intestinal problems as in non-autistic children. Kirby here seems to be equating diarrhoea with smearing. Others who have commented on Kirby’s blog have pointed out that problems with smearing are unpleasant but they pass. They make a lot of other important points as well. Please read.
  5. Escape artists. They have always been with us. Take Gabriel. He is non-verbal, still not toilet trained and in residential care. And he will be 30 next year. That sort of blows away Kirby’s hunch that, “It can only be attributed to radical changes in our environment over the last 10-20 years.” Gabriel’s mum, Kate Rankin, wrote a book about him. I met her at a book signing and she is a very nice lady.
  6. Harming self and others is a common problem among autistic children who get into a rage or are frustrated by our inability to understand what they mean. Teaching effective communication skills helps. Teaching non-autistics to listen and learn from autistics also helps. Even the so-called “neurodiverse” have problems with people not listening or not understanding their needs. Read Ballastexitenz‘ latest on what happens when an apparently “low functioning” member of the “neurodiverse” is disregarded on a visit to the ER.
  7. He is talking about autistic kids here. And many of Kirby’s “neurodiverse” had similar childhoods. It was worse for a lot of them because they did not get a diagnosis. It was not that they were mislabeled as quirky or nerdy. They were totally misunderstood. When I was at that book signing with Kate Rankin I also met Gunilla Gerland. Her book about growing up with undiagnosed autism, A Real Person, disposes of the myth that the “neurodiverse” have an easy ride of it and have nothing in common with their more severely autistic brethren. And if they did get a diagnosis it was for a psychiatric disorder they did not have. Then they were not only mis-diagnosed. They were also mis-treated with psychiatric drugs they did not need. The kids Kirby is talking about are also being mis-treated. This time it is chelation for their non-existent mercury poisoning. Kirby’s book and its attendant publicity has doubtless led many other parents down this path. His book truly is “Evidence of Harm.”

So Kirby is trying to divide articulate and educated autistic adults from the rest of the autistic spectrum, who, on the basis of a journalistic hunch, are to be reclassified as suffering from Environmentally-acquired Neuroimmune Disorder. We do not know know what causes this, although Kirby, as  befits an altie, chelation shill, still insists that mercury is “a logical candidate.”

Kirby’s message is to be thankful for being educated and articulate and to abandon those less fortunate autistic brothers and sisters to the likes of Generation Rescue and Safe Minds. Divide and rule anybody? If Kirby expects us to accept this nonsense I have a hunch that he may be about to experience some real vilification.


18 thoughts on “David Kirby is out to hunch

  1. Articulate and educated does not always equal sane. I think Kirby was just giving you a nice pat on the head and hoping you wouldn’t bite him. He must not realize that you are all dumb enough to believe anything that is said by the United States government. Maybe you need to live here to know that our politicians are mostly corrupt jackasses who just do what they are told by the corporations who put them in office. GR helps kids. The US govt. only helps corporations.

  2. Thank you for the critique. I’m sure Mr. Kirby does feel vilified. None of us welcome criticism from any quarter. Many of us who feel scrutinized in such a manner learn from our mistakes. Human beings are forgiving. We adjust, self regulate and if expedient, become silent.
    BEst wishes

  3. Great post Mike.

    Here Jack, I’ll fix that for you:
    “Articulate and educated does not always equal sane. I think Kirby was just giving you a nice pat on the head and hoping you wouldn’t see through his effort to deflect attention away from the fact that the hypothesis that functions as the backbone of his book is crumbling away as we speak. The rats are jumping ship.”

    mcewen – True advocates are supposed to live, eat, and breathe their passion. They make an emotional and intellectual investment into the position. To get so defensive about having to defend their position and passion smacks of the inability to defend that position. If that were true, it would make Mr. Kirby a financial opportunist who has no interest in autism other than the money that talking about it can generate.

  4. Pingback: Autism Vox » Diversity, Neurodiversity, and Dictee

  5. J’ai une question: Is the title of your blog entry here “villifying” Kirby?

    I’m pretty sure he would say I have villified him, but I’m pretty sure he deserved every syllable of the villification, if saying things like his book is titled, “Evidence of David Kirby not knowing what he’s talking about.”

    Poor guy, they really don’t pay him enough to take these kind of witty put-downs. I wonder if he cries himself to sleep over how mean the nasty neurodiverse are to him. NAA.

  6. Hi Jack
    full marks for noticing that I do not live over there. Guess what? We have corrupt politicians as well. We also have autism rates that are as high as yours. We have never had the same exposure to thiomersal. We had Wakefield and the MMR scam instead of Kirby and the mercury scam.
    But that has all but collapsed now. Wakefield has dropped his court case against Channel 4 over the TV documentary that exposed him two years ago.
    What a Happy New Year!

  7. Hmm I think Kirby has not monopoly on being vilified, what else can one call the diatribes of John Best and Lenny Schafer if not vilification, cos it certainly ain’t science.


  8. Mike, So, you’ve had SOME thimerosal in the UK. How much does it take to cause autism? Are your children less severe than those in the US? Are you sure you know the truth about how much thimerosal you’ve had there?
    I can only comment on the dirty tricks I’m aware of in the US, like givng pregnant women the flu shot to kill the brain cells of fetuses and make it look the the infant was born with a genetic abnormality.

  9. Why is John going by Jack now?

    BTW, truly regressive autism, which is called CDD, is very rare. Its prevalence is estimated at around 1.7 in 10,000.

  10. CDD is happens after 3 years of age and I have read that it can be very sudden and includes a kind of panicky behavior on the part of the kid. The regression is more drastic and the loss of skills more permanent than in “regressive” autism.

    Autistic kids don’t usually lose the ability to walk or move their arms, that sort of thing. Maybe they never do, but CDD kids do, to some degree.

  11. Nice Job Mike,
    I finally found the time to read your post properly and I’m so glad you addressed Kirby’s list point by point. Clearly Mr. Kirby is more interested in generating controversy and book sales than fact checking. What a fine journalist he is.

  12. I think that dismissing regressive autism as just a figment of the parents imagination (imagination of a larger pocketbook if I read the implication correctly) or lack of observation skills is doing a disservice to those of us in the .00017% pecentile (thanks for the # Joseph). Looks insignificant, but would probably be something in the neighborhood of 3-5% of the autistic population. I guess we should just lump those Retts people in there too, and any other ‘legitimate’ disorder that mirrors autism. Just a little piece of the whole pie…
    I understand the point they were making in the past that the regressive form of autism was not increasing was the point, I agree. But your bullet in the blog just serves to ‘cheapen’ the potential legitimate 3-5% of us; I’m just an ignorant or worse money hungry parent is the impression I get of myself based on your bullet.

    I won’t attempt to defend Kirby. The only thing I can say about him and others on that side of the fence is they bring out some of the legitimate points about the autistic condition, then draw questionable conclusions about causation. Just like a man named Al Sharpton here in the states: I disagree with probably 90% of the conclusions he draws, but what he is fighting about are valid point and should be listened to…

  13. Hi Bill
    the poblem I have is with the anti vaxers who claim that there is an autism epidemic in which nearly all of the increase is regressive autism caused by vaccines. Moreover this regressive autism of theirs is presented in the media as an unremitting nightmare of screaming, shit smearing, violent children who have lost all social and language skills. I do not doubt that there are children like this. But they are not typical of the vast majority of autistic children, regressive or otherwise.

    Regressive auism is real. Studies of family videos and detailed questionnaires of parents have identified at least three groups – early onset autism, regressive autism after normal develpment and regressive autism after atypical development. These studies relied on very small sample sizes and cannot give prevalence data. One estimate by Professor Gillberg is that maybe 20 per cent of autism is regressive.

    The problems with parental bias are not a slur on parents. It is a real psychological phenomenon. The publicity around MMR did change parental perceptions. They were not making it up. They were reinterpreting the past in a way that made sense at the time.

    I think the real problem, Bill, is with the anti-vaxers hijacking the concept of regressive autism for their own ends. It is their antics that might lead to you all being tarred with the same brush.

    I think you will find that their negative effect far outweighs any possible good that might arise from raising legitimate points about autism. And they are not the only ones raising these points. A lot of us in the other camp are concerned that legitimate health concerns and standards of care for autistic children and adults are not being properly addressed.

  14. Incredible that you base entire posts on the concept that Kirby is “recanting” on a selective quote about other potential environmental insults. What about what he said immediately afterward?
    I don’t have a determined position on the mercury issue; I’d like to know the answer but it’s hard to find unbiased analysis. You can continue to attack Kirby’s credibility, but you’re obviously no better.

  15. “immediately afterward” Kirby said:

    Mercury remains a logical candidate for contributing to “autism spectrum disorders,” either alone or in combination with other environmental insults. Mercury exposure can kill brain cells. It can cause loss of speech and eye contact, digestive and immune dysfunction, social withdrawal and anxiety, and repetitive and self-injurious behaviors.

  16. Paul
    Since his book was published Kirby has been an effective front man for campaigns like Safe Minds who argue that there is an epidemic of autism that is directly linked to the increase in thimerosal containing vaccines (TCVs) given to American children in the 1990s.
    When the TCVs were withdrawn it was logical to expect a drop in the number of new cases of autism amongst children if the thimerosal hypothesis was correct.
    When it became obvious that this was not going to happen the thimerosal hypothesis should have died. bu that would have meant the end of the lucrative chelation business and the end of the class action against the vaccine manufacturers.
    Instead we have Kirby coming up with new explanations, sorry, “hunches ,” about forest fires, cremations and Chinese power station emissions that conveiently came on stream just as the thimerosal was removed. So the chelating and the lawyering can continue. But there is precious little science to back it up.

  17. Yeah. So Kirby is pushing his theory to benefit chelation doctors and class-action lawyers. Maybe if you represented him accurately it’d be easier to even consider such an accusation. But your own agenda seems to preclude a fair discussion.

    Safe Minds has their own agenda, for sure, but contrary to your claims, Kirby himself has never insisted that the thimerosal hypothesis was correct. He has always bothered to distinguish between “evidence of harm” and “evidence of proof”. Like many of us, he has seen enough to at least be suspicious, enough to ask for a real dialogue and the opportunity to fund conclusive studies (there have been plenty of flawed studies on both sides of the issue). He has acknowleged in the past that 2007 would be the year for the numbers to put up (go down) or shut up (stay the same or increase). And he has always suggested that other environmental triggers could be responsible.

    Here’s something you can read right on his evidenceofharm.com website. “At the very least, the thimerosal debate has compelled the scientific community, however reluctantly, to consider an environmental component to the disorder, rather than looking for a purely genetic explanation. ” Written in 2004. And you have the nerve to tell people he’s producing wild new “hunches” this month to bail himself out the thimerosal argument?

    My child lost his language, lost his fine motor skills, which had been excellent, in the months after his vaccines. We are not convinced that thimerosal is the cause, but we are still wondering. And although our child is highly self-abusive, has almost no language (now age 9), certainly “low functioning”, we have not trusted chelating or any major biointerventions. We won’t put him at risk. But parents deserve honest information and deserve to ask questions. And in the thimerosal debate, it seems like one side just wants to make the questions go away. Your selective portrait of Kirby just reinforces that perception.

  18. I can understand how mercury could have pervasive affects on all areas including the senses but have you considered taste. Yes, taste. Children that acquire autism at 13 months.. have an uncanny unability to eat/accept food–why??? I ask. My theory involves the inability to use saliva as other typical children and the problems involved with gut feeling/accepting food. Taking away the bottle to receive regular milk which is not full of the 100% good stuff cannot help a child that is damaged in this way. My child needed a pure and easy digestive dry calcium drink made. This was given since 13 months so he had no choice but to always accept the norm of taste. He loved it and still enjoys it. It allows for the saliva aspirations that we take for granted. I wish I could take 100 toddlers affected by the damage and test proper milk/distribution in order to show that the immune system is not simple. It involves the importance of how we need to create the norm of salivation and its extreme importance of helping in the progression out of damage to include other invasive…
    Just my theory and I have tried it and succeeded with my son. Although he is going to be 8 I feel he is a typical child of 4. Yes, mercury damages. Why would anyone want to put this into the brains of our newborn children???? If I could buy time I would not have vaccinated. I wish you love and hope that someday as a whole we can understand the damage and how to help. There has been so many reports of soldiers damaged by vaccinations–getting diseases/conditions before their time.

    It is hard to give love in a different way– going against what culture believes but I honestly feel that in the long run children can be typical (autism). I still bottle feed at night as his diet (whether it be texture/taste or the problem I have mentioned–damage to salivary production and immune progression). He is healthy, happy and progressing like no other autistic child.

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