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Step by step guide to creating an anti-vaccination network
Since I am not a fan of conspiracy theories, woo, quackery, psychics or anti-vaccinators (anti-vaxxors), I thought I would repost this blog to help people get a better understanding of how these types of misinformation spreads and gets out of control. The scoiology of the anti-vaxxor movement can be applied to any movement that is based on conspiracy theory with a heavy anti-science base.
Enjoy. I’m off to play Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines for the millionth time.
Step by step guide to creating an anti-vaccination network
September 12, 2011
With all of the “1 in 88″ posts going around regarding vaccinations causing autism, I felt it might be a good time to resurrect this post, which proposes to start a rumor that folic acid fortification of the food supply causes autism, not vaccination. The scientific data are actually stronger for folic acid fortification, as I am sure the anti-vaxxers will be crushed to discover. Rumormongering begins now.
How do rumors get started? Well, anyone with a fondness for 80′s music will immediately respond to this question with:
”They’re started by the jealous people and they get mad see somethin’ they had and somebody else is holdin’”.
These insightful song lyrics are brought to you by the Timex Social Club, which was not as you may suspect a faculty book club, but rather a band from the 80′s. Unfortunately, they do not fully answer the question as it relates to truthiness in science.
So let’s start a rumor, reader, and see how this works.The rumor we are going to start is that FOLATE FORTIFICATION OF THE FOOD SUPPLY CAUSES AUTISM. Stay with me reader, because I’m gonna need your help to get this rumor going.
Our step-by-step approach is as follows:
1. The first thing we need is public health legislation that is passed without the voters’ input. Luckily we have just the thing. In 1998, it became mandatory in the United States to fortify grains with folic acid, primarily to reduce the risk of horrifying neural tube defects. You can read about this online by accessing the Federal Register 1996;61:8781–97. This government-mandated law really amps up the paranoia factor.
2. The next thing we need is a disease endpoint with which we can correlate folate fortification. Obviously, we need a serious, complex disease for which the major cause (if, in fact, there is a single major cause) has not been identified. This disease must also get a lot of press, otherwise our rumor is not going to gain any traction. For this reason, let’s choose autism.
Here is a graph of incident autism cases by year per 1000 people. The origin of this graph is difficult to pin down, though I found it on Wikipedia. The source of this graph is completely irrelevant to starting our rumor, however. It may be accurate, it may not be. It just doesn’t matter, because it is on the internet and therefore I think we can all agree that it is accurate-ish enough for our needs.
3. Next, we make a sweeping statement about the obvious, damning correlation between folate fortification and autism. Quite clearly, diagnoses of autism skyrocketed after 1998, when folate fortification was mandated. In fact, we’d expect to see the biggest impact of folic acid fortification on autism approximately 3-7 years after fortification began, when the children born to women poisoned by folic acid reached the ages at which autism is diagnosed.
4. People are clutching their pearls already, I can tell. They are building their bomb shelters and composing their letters to their congresspeople. So now it’s time to really drive home our point with something sciency-sounding that PROVES our hypothesis. This sciency-sounding thing must of course have been published in a medical journal.
Maternal genetic variants that compromise intrauterine availability of folate derivatives could alter fetal cell trajectories and disrupt normal neurodevelopment. In this investigation, the frequency of common functional polymorphisms in the folate pathway was investigated in a large population-based sample of autism case-parent triads. In case-control analysis, a significant increase in the reduced folate carrier (RFC1) G allele frequency was found among case mothers, but not among fathers or affected children.
This helpful piece comes from James et al, Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. 2010 Sep;153B(6):1209-20, and indicates that our theory has some biological plausibility. Indeed, the well-established and critical role of folate in neurodevelopment provides that plausibility all by itself.
5. Let’s shore this puppy up with another article from a medical-ish journal; Med Hypotheses. 2011 Jul;77(1):15-7. Epub 2011 Mar 31, brought to you by Beard and colleagues. The title of this article is terror incarnate:
Is excess folic acid supplementation a risk factor for autism?
PERFECT! In this work, the authors present some correlation coefficients that indicate that the more folic acid you or your child consumes, the more likely they are to have autism. Let’s ignore for a moment that the journal Medical Hypotheses has very vague definitions of peer-review and just accept these findings at face value, okay? We really need to finish this up.
6. A key part of our rumor is that we must now rise up as one and demand that someone prove to us that folic acid fortification has NOT caused the autism epidemic.
7. The final part of our rumormongering is that if anyone provides you with evidence contrary to our hypothesis, ignore them.
8. Wait wait WAIT! I forgot that we need a catchy name and a really attractive and talkative spokesmodel for our grassroots campaign. I am going to call it the Folate Obviously Undermines Lives Movement, or FOUL Movement. As for the spokesperson, I sure hope my reader is really hot and chatty.
I think I have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that folic acid supplementation causes autism, reader. Join me in a really great FOUL Movement and start.spreading. those rumors around….and see ya next time.
Books to check out:
Seth Mnookin: The Panic Virus: The True Story of the Vaccine-Autism Controversy
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