February 1, 2017
For those of us who have been reading – and talking about – the science on the subject of autism and vaccines for years, it can be very frustrating speaking with members of the medical and scientific communities, most of whom believe what they are told by the CDC and the mainstream media: all the credible science says there is no link between vaccines and autism. Of course, that’s so far from the truth it’s ludicrous, but it’s certainly understandable that even scientists believe it as the lie is repeated over and over again by people who really ought to know. In fact, Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat (then the Director of The National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control), doubled down on this stance as recently as February of 2015 when testifying before Congress. She was asked point-blank by Senator Elizabeth Warren, “Is there any scientific evidence that vaccines cause profound mental disorders?” (Meaning, of course, autism.) Dr. Schuchat’s answer: “No.”
Senator Warren took pains to make it clear that if anyone was qualified to answer this question, Dr. Schuchat, as “the top immunization official in the United States,” should have been. She went on to say, “Parents should know that all of the credible scientific evidence suggests that modern vaccines are safe, modern vaccines are effective, and modern vaccines are our best chance of protecting our children from diseases that can kill them; is that right?”
Dr. Schuchat’s response: “That’s right.”
And there you have it. As far as most of the world is concerned, including scientists who really ought to know better, there is no scientific evidence that vaccines are linked to autism.
Dr. Lyons-Weiler eats his words
Enter James Lyons-Weiler, PhD, who has published countless peer-reviewed studies on a variety of topics and is an expert on scientific study design. With four different degrees in various biology-related fields of study, Lyons-Weiler, author of the new book The Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism, should be very well equipped to understand the science on autism causation. Yet when I met Lyons-Weiler at the United Nations conference in April of last year where Mary Holland and Martha Herbert spoke about vaccine issues, he told me that until 2015 he was among the many scientists who believed that the vaccine/autism question had been asked and answered. He even wrote in his book Ebola, An Evolving Story,
With over 100 cases confirmed, the US is, at the time of this writing, at high risk of an epidemic of measles because the herd immunity is lacking due to a dogmatic antivaccination movement. The efficacy of the measles vaccine in protecting children against terrible diseases should be reason enough for parents to insist on vaccinating their children, but the so-called ‘anti-vaxxers’ (people who believe vaccines place their children at risk of developing autism) fail to consider the greater good: They put others at risk by not participating in national programs for the greater good.
Sounds like our worst nightmare, doesn’t he? But before you judge him too harshly, please understand that, unlike most of his peers, after writing that Dr. Lyons-Weiler actually took the time to look at the science, starting with the infamous 1998 Wakefield et al. case series. What he found was so dramatically different from what he had expected that it didn’t take long for indignant outrage to take hold with respect to the picture the mainstream media had been painting for the past couple decades. It was the huge discrepancy between what he saw in the science and how that science is represented to the public (coupled with the urging of Louis Conte and Tony Lyons of Skyhorse Publishing) that motivated Lyons-Weiler to focus his encyclopedic knowledge of biological science and prodigious analytic talents on the approximately 3,000 scientific papers and studies that have been produced since the 1940s on the subject of autism. This book is the stunning result.
Autism science finally woven into a coherent framework
Having read and largely understood a good deal of the science on autism and vaccines before reading Lyons-Weiler’s book, I thought I had a pretty good handle on the depth and scope of it. However, I have to say that, despite being a relative newcomer to the topic, Dr. Lyons-Weiler runs rings around me in his understanding of the full scope of the science. In fact, I would venture to bet that at this point in time he can run rings around anyone, including the researchers who are producing the science he quotes. Lyons-Weiler, who is anything but a newcomer to scientific analysis, clearly possesses a rare ability to assess, understand, and contexualize tremendous amounts of scientific material in a short period of time. The depth and breadth of his knowledge and understanding of this subject are no less than dazzling. We are extremely fortunate that he has turned his attention to the autism conundrum.
From a scientific standpoint, this book draws together an astonishing array of research on autism, vaccines, various ingredients of vaccines, genetic mutations and polymorphisms, and the interactions among all those elements. But that only hints at the overall utility of Lyons-Weiler’s book because, not only does he compile, analyze, and present a complete overview of the scientific evidence on autism and how it comes about, he also pulls it all together into a logical and cohesive framework that encompasses and reconciles virtually all the science on the subject that’s been performed to date on this extremely complex, heterogeneous condition — including the science which appears to contradict his conclusions. This is a very, very good thing. Lyons-Weiler tackles the studies that purport to show there is “no link” between vaccines and autism head on and demonstrates that these studies do nothing of the kind. In fact, they would, given their design and power, actually be expected to miss an association with an event as rare as autism even if one existed. The fact that any statistically significant association was found in retrospective studies performed by the CDC (even though most of those results were left out of the published versions) is good evidence that there is a strong signal to be found if genetic subpopulations were considered as they should.
It is long past time the scientific community got a kick in its collective keester on this subject. Long past time the CDC stopped pretending “we don’t know” whether the huge increase in autism prevalence is real. Long past time the media stopped discussing the autism epidemic as genetic or environmental in nature when it has been clear for quite a while that it is both. There are people who have autism as a direct result of genetic risk factors. That is fact. Others have autism as a direct result of environmental factors such as prenatal exposure to valproic acid or rubella infection – also fact. And then there are the vast majority of cases where some combination of one or more genes that confer risk interacted with specific environmental exposures to yield some version of autism. Personally, I have had a tendency to downplay or even ignore altogether the contribution that genetic studies have made to the body of autism science because the huge variety of genes that confer some level of autism risk seemed to render most of the studies useless for translation to treatment or prevention. Dr. Lyons-Weiler, however, is knowledgeable enough to determine how these studies fit into the overall context of autism causation and how they can and should contribute to the development of effective appropriate treatments.
This book is a difficult read by any standard, and the average autism mom or dad may have significant trouble with the scientific details. (I recommend you get very familiar with the word phenotype before you read it. It will save you some frustration.) But this book wasn’t really written for you parents, as you probably already know how your child reacts or reacted to various environmental intoxicants, including the vaccines on the CDC-recommended childhood schedule. This book was written for the scientific community, the researchers and medical professionals who have thus far been duped by the CDC, the pharmaceutical companies, and the media they finance into believing that the science says nearly the exact opposite of what it really says. (Where have I heard that before?) They are the people who desperately need to see beyond the ridiculous simplistic sound bites of a CDC-Merck press release if anything is going to change. And if Lyons-Weiler’s book won’t open their eyes, nothing will.
How different upstream conditions lead to similar downstream effects
The central construct of the book is that there are a number of specific brain conditions that are characteristic of the various phenotypes of autism, the most important of which appears to be chronic microglial activation, and there may be many paths which can arrive at the same autism result. Those paths include genetic predisposition, environmental insult, and genetic predisposition interacting with environmental insult. That’s not revolutionary in and of itself. After all, we’ve been hearing “genes load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger” for quite a while. But Lyons-Weiler takes it further than I’ve ever seen before by actually analyzing the gene studies and the pathways that are affected by the specific autism-risk genes and demonstrating how the same pathway can be disturbed by environmental intoxicants. We know that if one or more predisposing genes are present, autism becomes more likely. But few of the hundreds of genes that appear to increase autism risk (mostly ones having to do with very early brain development) appear to confer “absolute” risk in the sense that autism would be likely in the absence of environmental triggers. In fact, many of these genes are relatively common polymorphisms that are shared by large segments of the population, most of whom never develop autism and may not exhibit any form of neurological dysfunction. These polymorphisms have often been part of the human genome for thousands of years without “causing” autism in those who bear them, frequently including the parents of children who now have autism. Instead, what these polymorphisms appear to do is predispose a child to damage from particular toxic insults. For instance, a gene that leads to lower levels of glutathione, an important factor in detoxification, combined with acetaminophen (Tylenol), which further lowers glutathione, and several vaccines containing aluminum and Thimerosal, is a recipe for disaster.
In cases where genetic predispositions are impacted by environmental intoxicants to produce autism, the genes themselves cannot be said to be the primary cause as the autism would not exist without the environmental “hits.” As Lyons-Weiler puts it,
Cyanide acts on proteins that are not adapted to the presence of cyanide and causes death; cyanide, not the failed ability of the proteins to withstand its effects, is the cause of death at toxic doses. The foreign, artificial, industrial factors that abrogate normalcy in biological systems are the cause of disease, not the range of functions observed in the population upon which they act.
Overly simplistic representations of genetic contributions that lead to that portrayal of genetics as the sole cause of autism, that suggest that it is therefore deterministic and that we can forget about environmental factors, are similar exercises in blaming the victim.
Why parents should read Causes
This book may not have been written with the average autism mom or dad in mind, but I recommend that each and every one read the book anyway. And do not be daunted by the difficulty of early chapters because the chapters on “Immunological Factors in Autism and ASD,” “Gastrointestinal and Renal Phenotypes in ASD,” and “Vaccine-Autism Studies Ignored by the CDC” will blow you away. Like me, you will probably cry joyous tears more than once as it dawns on you what a tremendous advocate children now have in Lyons-Weiler who states unequivocally that “People have the right to carry their genetic diversity safely without being blamed for their autism when it is caused by environmental insult,” and “Each person born has a natural right to express their genotypes without fear of being burdened by disease or disorder due to the artificial introduction of chemicals in their environment.”
The outrage that motivated this book becomes evident when Lyons-Weiler discusses two people, Dr. Paul Offit, the vaccine industry’s favorite spokesperson and vaccine-made millionaire, and Rear Admiral Anne Schuchat, quoted above. Lyons-Weiler takes Offit to task, stating that Offit is “irresponsibly and recklessly dismissive of aluminum as a serious threat to the health of nearly all people” in his book Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. Lyons-Weiler then goes on to outline the large amount of extremely credible science that exists demonstrating the tremendous toxic potential of aluminum, in direct contradiction to Offit’s position, most of which was available prior to the publication of Offit’s book in 2010. Lyons-Weiler concludes that the evidence that environmental toxicants, especially childhood vaccines, and perhaps most especially the aluminum in them, are indeed causing autism in many children who are genetically susceptible. Lyons-Weiler has come so far so fast that he even provides justification for any child to have a medical exemption for the recomended vaccine schedule
The research discussed in this and previous chapters supports medical exemptions based on the parents’ desire to reduce the cumulative lifetime risk of neurodegenerative disease in their child by reducing exposure to known neurotoxins. Parents may also wish to reduce the risk of autoimmune disorder development in their child. These are both medical concerns that parents are entitled to express, and they are not addressed by sweeping generalizations about vaccine safety. (original emphasis)
. . . we have natural, constitutionally, and internationally recognized rights to informed consent, free from coercion and manipulation. Clearly the imposition of vaccinations on a population in which a minority of people are much more susceptible to perverse outcomes than others does more than reveal the neurotoxins in vaccines as a primary cause. It reveals who we are as a culture and as a people. It defines the very moral fabric of our society.
Of Schuchat’s testimony before Congress, quoted at the beginning of this piece, Lyons-Weiler says
Rear Admiral Schuchat’s conclusion is inconceivable. All of those studies paid for by the American people and government, were treated as if they never occurred and were never published. As if the National Institutes of Health, who funded those studies, did not exist. As if none of the rounds of peer-reviewed effort for grants and publications mattered. As if the hundreds of thousands of research hours were not spent. . .
. . . Regardless of what her motives were, in my opinion she was misleading the American public. The rest of the science, reviewed in this book, debunks her testimony.
The future of autism science
The most hopeful part of the book comes at the end when Dr. Lyons-Weiler lays out the way forward for autism research that will help prevent future neurological damage and to find effective ways to treat that which has already happened. One of the most frustrating things about autism research from a physician or parent’s perspective has been the fact that treatments are rarely scientifically shown to provide statistically significant improvements in outcomes, when parents know that specific treatments have helped their children tremendously, even to the point of reversing autism in some cases. Lyons-Weiler’s focus on the different pathways that produce the different autistic phenotypes makes it clear why those studies have been as frustrating as they have: the study population is usually made up of a heterogeneous group of children with autism that includes phenotypes for which the treatment would not even be theoretically helpful. Going forward, research must focus on the specific subpopulations most likely to be affected by a particular intervention.
If you’re thinking that this all sounds so logical and makes so much sense, you’re right. Autism parents have been saying things along these lines for years, but until now there has been little scientific support for these convictions other than individual parents’ and physicians’ observations. It is my opinion, that this book deserves to quickly become the definitive text on autism causation, and we would do well to put Lyons-Weiler in charge of of future autism science, using this book as the blueprint.
We know that it’s hard to get people who don’t have “skin in the game” to care about what is happening to today’s children, but if we don’t succeed in doing so, the consequences can and will be dire. As Lyons-Weiler says
The reasons presented above are enough to encourage prompt reform. But, as in Ebola, perhaps we need a selfish reason to care. The sum of the research studies strongly lead to the conclusion that given a large enough dose of neurotoxic insults leading to neuroexcitoxicity (sic), everyone would develop autism. It is simply a matter of dose tolerance.
Which means that Lyons-Weiler’s book The Environmental and Genetic Causes of Autism, a dazzling scientific tour de force that brings the welcome breath of truth to an atmosphere grown stale from oft-repeated lies, belongs in the hands (and minds) of all medical scientists and professionals, especially pediatricians, who ever express opinions on autism.
The sooner it gets there, the better.
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