Welcome, new readers! Since this post has been recently linked to in other pieces discussing the work of Dr. Deisher as regards Planned Parenthood video footage and the anti-vaccine movement, please read our response on that topic here.
Since the publication of this piece, released the same day as Sound Choice’s press release announcing the publication of this study, I was made aware that Dr. Deisher’s child has been diagnosed with cancer. I hope all will join me in praying for his return to health, as well as the comfort and peace of his family during this challenging time.
This month, Dr. Theresa Deisher of Sound Choice Pharmaceuticals published a study which proposed a correlation between the usage of vaccines using fetal cell culture and the increasing diagnosis of autism in children. This hypothesis centers on the idea that rogue fetal DNA from vaccines that are grown in the cultured cells obtained from abortion could somehow go to the brain and cause autism.
I’ve read Dr. Deisher’s full study, which can be found here. It is very clear to me how this could be alarming to any Catholic parent concerned about their children’s risk of autism. The article is written with a whole lot of big, science-y sounding words and has a bunch of graphs to attempt to support the central argument that vaccines grown in fetal cell culture cause autism. This serves to disguise that essentially the hypothesis being stated is that a temporal correlation between the introduction of immunizations grown in WI-38 and MRC-5 to a population and the incidence of diagnosed autism implies a causal relationship between these two factors.
Or, if writing like a normal human being instead of using big words on purpose to confuse the issue, the authors are arguing that because two things happened at the same time that one caused the other.
It’s really easy to argue that because two things happened at the same time that one caused the other. Correlation is very easy to show, but it does not in any way mean that causation has been proven. I can argue that the sales of organic food or Apple products is correlated with an increased incidence of autism, but no sensible person would take that argument seriously. However, in order to better understand why the “fetal cell culture immunization causes autism” argument is wrong, it’s helpful to go through why it would be so so unlikely to be true.
Bottom line: before even looking at whether stray human DNA could cause autism it comes down to a question of when autism happens. If autism is caused by a vaccine grown in fetal cell culture, it will happen after the vaccine is administered. During the period in which this study covers*, no vaccine grown in fetal cell culture was scheduled to be given before 12 months of age. So, in order for this to work, you would have to have all of the children in question be perfectly normal and functioning healthily until they received the vaccine and then they changed.
However, this is overwhelmingly unlikely to be true for many reasons. The scientific consensus on autism is that autism is something that occurs before birth. Further, early signs of autism are often present even in infancy, even though they are often very difficult to identify as such. Autism that is present before birth cannot possibly have been triggered by a vaccine administered a year or more after birth.
What exactly causes autism is a matter of debate, as it should be. Research passionately done is a gift to the entire human race. There is some evidence that folic acid may play a role, with women who take folic acid before and early in pregnancy showing an almost 40% reduction in the likelihood of their children having autism. There are theories that pesticide exposure during pregnancy may be a factor. The anatomy of the brain in people who are autistic is different compared to their neurotypical peers, lending even more credibility to the idea that autism caused by something (or a complex interplay of different factors) during the prenatal period. Even the placentas of babies who go on to be diagnosed as being autistic can have major differences from their neurotypical peers. After birth, even as early as two months of age children who will go on to be diagnosed as autistic can be identified by how much attention they pay to the eyes of someone speaking to them.
How could an immunization given months after birth cause changes in the brain of an infant before birth? How could a vaccine given 10 months later cause a two month old to lose interest in looking into people’s eyes? How could even three different vaccines with multiple doses each somehow come together to cause placental differences existing months earlier for the child who will go on to be diagnosed with autism?
They can’t. There is no plausible way that this could happen. It makes absolutely no sense with what we know to be true about autism. Even though to the layperson it sounds convincing that foreign DNA injected into a developing child could somehow go to the brain and cause autism, there is no credible way that that could actually be the case. Not with the overwhelming evidence that autism begins before birth. This is yet another in a series of plausible sounding untruths about vaccines that are so convincing to the average, intelligent parent just trying to learn more.
No parent should be embarrassed or feel less intelligent for thinking that this theory sounded like it might be true, or indeed for finding almost any vaccine myth to sound convincing. On the surface, it seems like it has an internal consistency. It contains many charts to catch the eye, and even better, it’s been published in a peer reviewed journal. And there is something in the American psyche, particularly the American Catholic psyche, that resonates when presented with a seeming underdog standing up to Big Entity X in defense of the little guy and the purity of truth.
But science requires the humility to seek consensus. It means replication, cross checking, controlling for biases and submitting our theories to the scrutiny of others. For the reasons already given, and for more which time and space require me to leave for another day, there is no way that the fetal cell culture vaccines -> autism causation theory can hold up to the intense scrutiny that scientific rigor demands. This may be why this article was found in an obscure journal from a publisher (Academic Journals) that is not held in esteem by the scientific community under suspicion of being a possibly predatory open access publisher. Academic Journals has actually been blacklisted by the Government of Malaysia’s Ministry of Higher Education, who will not recognize any citation in their publications as valid.
I do not know why the authors of this article published the conclusions that they did, or why they chose to publish their work in such a questionable publication. In no way do I want to impugn their characters or call into question what are probably deeply held beliefs on their parts. However, deeply held beliefs do not make for rigorous scientific inquiry. And pro-life parents seeking to do the best by their children and by their culture deserve better than to have a plausible sounding lie masquerading as truth.
A later post post will address the merits of the “rogue fetal DNA causes autism and other harm” argument on its own merits. We want to give as fair treatment to the central thesis being promoted as we can, and that requires more time and outside consultation than was possible in a short time frame.
* Pentacel by Sanofi Pasteur contains a polio vaccine cultured in fetal cell culture. There are alternatives to its use, but many children receive it for their initial immunizations.
See the other posts on this study [updated 9/23/14]:
– Problems with Deisher’s Study— Part I: The numbers
– Looking a little closer at the numbers— A supplement to Part I
– Problems with Deisher’s study— Part II: Biological Implausibility