Monday, June 20, 2005

Mercury and Autism

I'm in no means in favor of ingesting Mercury, either the element or the planet but lately the talk about thimerosal has gone about here. (For an opposing view of Rolling Stones' article, click here.) [Actually a similar Salon article.]

Kennedy makes it seem that Republicans are behind the cover-up ("Even many conservatives are shocked by the government's effort to cover up the dangers of thimerosal") but most of the politicians that I've read about connected to banning thimerosal are Republicans, the same sort who would like to ban abortion, birth control, and evolution. Bill Frist is paid off to protect thimerosal (and for this reason, I can't blame anyone for having suspicions) but I would bet that the money trail behind the issue covers both sides.

The main objection I have to this theory is that it neatly explains the cause of autism on external factors, similar to Bruno Bettelheim (granted Bettelheim's theory was psychological and the "Blame thimerosal" theory is chemical but they both hinge on non-genetic factors). This doesn't seem possible in many autistic cases.

One of the reason autism rates vary wildly from state to state is that autism has no single agreed upon definition. A child diagnosed as autistic in Ohio might not be in Kentucky. The Autism Society of America defines it as "a spectrum disorder that affects each individual differently and to varying degrees of severity." That gives a lot of room to cherry pick if you're looking for a connection between a cause and effect. The anti-thimerosal people use this to their advantage.

Having said all that, I would favor switching to non-thimerosal vaccines. Based on the results from Canada, I don't think it would have much of an effect but I can't see how anyone could argue in favor of taking in Mercury...unless you're paid to like Frist. (The Autism Society's position is for more research.)

Ultimately I agree on what Kennedy is calling for but I think he and most people who write about this are indefensibly dishonest.

No comments: