13 January 2008

On vaccines and autism

Last week I asked the question: What would it take to change your mind? I figured I should probably think of an answer for myself, this post includes some thoughts from my contemplation. This is not a complete argument for or against anything that I haven't already stated, just some thoughts in process. Any thoughts of yours are certainly welcome.
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I don't believe that autism is mercury poisoning, I've said that before. As for the number / types of vaccines being a trigger (I don't believe it is a cause in the Newtonian sense), I've been thinking about it lately but haven't seen any data to help me make a my mind.

Along those lines, the Age of Autism (which is, I must note, very openly of the opinion that mercury in the form of thimerosol in vaccines and/or the number of vaccines given to kids is the primary cause of most autism) yesterday pointed to the 2008 pediatrics vaccination schedules (0-6 years and 6 years and over).

WOW!!

That was about all I could think when I looked at the schedule. The schedule in and of itself doesn't lead me to believe anything different than what I knew before, but it does give me an extra data point. The human immune system is an incredible, incredibly intelligent, incredibly complex system. (Though I'm sure there are many books specifically on the subject, The Genius Within includes a very description of how the process works.)

The challenge with a complex system (as opposed to a merely complicated system) is that the outcome of any given input to the system can not be predicted and that a specific cause for a measured outcome cannot be identified. From Dave Snowden (who thinks about complexity a lot):

  • Complex systems can not be predicted, they are non-causal (taking cause in its normal Newtonian sense) in nature they evolve and the same thing will not happen again twice, we can predict aspects of the system and different aspects of time but never the outcome of the whole system
  • The concept of a non-causal system is a very difficult one to grasp as the west abandoned the idea at the time of the Enlightenment (Vico and others were prophetic in arguing against this).
  • A complex system can be simulated - which increases understanding but simulation should not (although it is often) confused with prediction
  • We can understand starting conditions as a complex system evolves and we can influence their evolution if we focus on barriers and attractors (1st and 2nd order constraints) but not if we look at the end point (so attempting to predict makes things worse not better)
  • Humans tend to premature convergence (seeing a pattern too quickly before it is stable) and also to retrospective coherence (implying past causality where there was none). Both of these tendencies are pervasive and dangerous
Which brings me to a very interesting dilemma:
  • If autism (has a cause and) is indeed caused by an insult to the immune system, we can not predict which vaccine or combination of vaccines will cause it; and,
  • Once autism is caused in an individual we can not look back through their vaccination history to determine which vaccine it was that did the causing.
And this doesn't even bring into play the complexity of the interaction between the immune system and the rest of the body or the role of genetics, and genetic predisposition.
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3 comments:

kyra said...

i tend to be in your camp about this. i don't think vaccines CAUSE autism but the body, the systems within, the role of genetics and environment, etc etc., it's so very complex. who's to say what 'insult' or combinations thereof, topple the tower?

mumkeepingsane said...

Very interesting. Even before autism I had a curiousity about vaccinations. So, my children were given their thimerisol-free vaccinations one at a time and some a bit later than the schedule suggests. One autistic and one not. I honestly doubt we'll ever pin down a "cause".

Wade Rankin said...

Although I believe that vaccinations played a role in the development of my son's ASD, I agree that we all would be far better served by research into the processes by which genes and environment interact before we focus on particular genes and/or particular environmental insults. We're only beginning to understand what a complex issue this is.