What do vaccines and alleged alien abductions have in common? Aside from needles…
Believe it or not, according to conspiracy theorists the thing that vaccines and alien abductions have in common is that both are named as probable causes for autism!
In April 2017, Anthony Lawson, et al, published a study called “Pilot comparative study on the health of vaccinated and unvaccinated 6- to 12-year-old U.S. children” in the Journal of Translational Science, a predatoey journal. The paper was retracted. TWICE. It was apparently approved provisionally in Frontiers in Public Health last November under a slightly different title, and then subsequently retracted before being retracted by the open-source Journal of Translational Medicine. The study has been re-published to the Translational Medicine website as of May 18, 2017 without any comment or explanation, even though an explanation was promised.
Mawson is a vocal supporter of Andrew Wakefield, whose own retracted study first proposed the connection between autism and vaccinations. So he was hardly an unbiased researcher.
Neither were the parties that funded the study. According to Snopes.com:
“Mawson’s vaccine study was funded by two anti-vaccine groups: Generation Rescue, founded by anti-vaccine activist Jenny McCarthy, and the Children’s Medical Safety Research Institute, founded by vaccine skeptic Claire Dwoskin. Web sites such as Age of Autism ran ads calling for donations to Generation Rescue, containing an explicit statement that the money would go toward funding the study.”
In any case, this study of 666 children, 261 of whom (39%) were unvaccinated, concluded that the risk of being affected by an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) was 4.7 fold higher in vaccinated children than unvaccinated children. That is, 1% of unvaccinated children in the study were on the ASD spectrum while 4.7% of the children with ASD were vaccinated. That’s right; 3 unvaxxed children versus 19 vaxxed children were on the ASD spectrum out of 666 kids on what I’m calling Lawson’s Beast Survey (because 666, y’all). That is a really small sample size to be extrapolating data from. Keep in mind that even Lawson admits that these 666 children did not comprise a representative sample but rather “a convenience sample of sufficient size to test for significant differences in outcomes.” If it’s not a representative sample and the sample size is too small to be trusted anyway, how are we supposed to take ANY if the Beast Survey’s conclusions seriously? That just sounds like grasping at straws.
For example, most sites list the percentage of persons with ASD as about 1% of the population (1 in 68 persons). Now let’s look at the Beast Survey’s conclusions:
Note that the percentage of unvaxxed homeschooled children with ASD is 1% …exactly like everyone else! Yes, the percentage of vaccinated homeschooled children is higher but if your unvaxxed baseline is exactly the same as the general average of folks with ASD, how can you rationally justify a conclusion that vaccines are causing ASD. The Beast Survey suggests that vaccines cause ASD to be more prevalent; one could just as easily suggest that homeschooling makes ASD more prevalent! The fact is that another piece of the Beast Survey data actually undermines the link between autism and vaccinations.
The Beast Survey admits that “Partially vaccinated children had an intermediate position between the fully vaccinated and unvaccinated in regard to several but not
all health outcomes.” It never explicitly mentions the fact that partially vaccinated children with ASD did not have an intermediate step between vaccinated and unvaccinated, likely because it suggests that vaccinations aren’t the culprit after all.
So thus far the vaccination theory of Autism is just another conspiracy theory. The alien abduction theory is no less far-fetched.
According to Aliensandchildren.org:
“Bungling alien scientists from space created epidemic of autism. There’s no conspiracy. The aliens are lousy scientists. The spectrum of autism disorders comes from flawed alien trial and error efforts to create a new race from their genes and human genes…
Like the failed manipulation of their own genes, the alien creation process is flawed, which may bring about defects in the human genome manifesting as autism and asperger’s disease. The creation process is actually beyond the alien’s scientific capacity, so they constantly change their modifications to human DNA, hence the ever enlarging spectrum of autistic disorders. Making hybrids is an alien trial and error process.”
The website belongs to Michael Menkin, who also claims to have designed a “thought screen helmet” that works better than traditional tin foil fashion headgear to thwart alien abductions and telepathic communications or even signals from alien implants that would otherwise alter the abductee’s genetic code! Andy Sinatra would be proud!
He seems to have come up with this idea by reading David Jacobs and Budd Hopkins… two “researchers” whose abuses of hypnosis are legendary. Menkin’s logical leap to autism as the result of failed alien experimentation seems to be his own invention. He may mean well but his site features images and language that devalues people with autism; and even Menkin admits there’s not really any research to back his claims. For example, this from his website:
He claims that his hats helped a few people with autism to get better after over a decade or so wearing them but he has no way to prove that the hats had anything to do with it. He’s honest enough to admit that and hopes some scientist will help him prove or disprove his theories. Since his site is the first thing that pops up on a Google search of “How to stop alien abductions,” I kind of hope some scientist takes him up on his offer some day! At least he doesn’t charge for the “thought screen helmets;” the site gives instructions on how to make your own free of charge.
As far as the idea that aliens are causing autism goes, even my 8 year old knows better.
Me: Hey I read today that autism is caused by alien abduction.
My kid: Nah, that’s not true
As a value-added irony, Michael Menkin rejects the idea that vaccines cause autism and sees bad consequences from the anti-vax movement for society-at-large, as the following chart from his site illustrates.
That’s right; if their baseless claims are left unchecked, anti-vaxxers will actually bring back lethal illnesses that are easily preventable, like they did in Minnesota with a Measles outbreak directly linked to their anti-vax propaganda efforts amongst Somali-Americans in the area. Stupid ideas like this can have serious consequences for the rest of us.
Another consequence of both conspiracy theories is the othering of people with autism. Consider this indictment of the anti-vax movement from the point of view of a person with autism. In the wake of the Minnesota Measles outbreak, Sarah Kurchak wrote an article entitled “Here’s How the Anti-Vaccination Movement Hurts Autistic People,” in which she noted:
“When anti-vaxxers argue that it’s better to possibly expose your child to thoroughly preventable and potentially deadly illnesses than possibly “give” them autism, they’re not just threatening the herd immunity that comes with sufficient vaccination rates. They’re also perpetuating painful stereotypes about autism that put an already embattled population in even greater danger…
Those stereotypes can include the idea that a preventable disease is preferable to autism or that people with autism are angels, alien hybrids, demon-possessed or any other label that dehumanizes them. Wolf Wolfensberger noted that society tends to identify groups of people as fundamentally ‘different’, and of less value than everyone else. Historically, this othering has tilled fertile ground for the worst sorts of abuses.
Kurchak noted that even mere acceptance of persons with autism is inhibited by the propaganda of anti-vaxxers:
Navigating a world that wasn’t built for people like us and still offers little in the way of true autism acceptance is hard enough to deal with on a daily basis. Adding the fact that 58 people and counting in Minnesota are currently infected with measles because no one wanted a child anything like you only adds to those issues…
Knowing that there are people out there who genuinely believe that having a child die of measles is better than having an autistic child is nothing short of devastating…
The movement also harms us by wasting resources that might otherwise go to actually helping autistic people instead of clinging to a conspiracy that makes people fear us.”
I encourage you to read the entire article.
The bottom line is that the science – real science – suggests that the cause of autism is likely genetic. Autism is just another way of being human. These conspiracy theories born of fear only serve to further alienate the autistic community and divert time and energy from real research that might help them, while breaking down society’s herd immunity to preventable diseases.