Dr Briffa: An Expert on the Causes of Autism?

November 6, 2008 at 1:36 pm (Bad Science, Briffa, Nutritionism) (, , , , )

“I always thought that Dr John Briffa was like a more grown-up version of Patrick Holford… now he’s blown it.” If these words seem familiar, perhaps it’s because you’ve read them before.

The last time I wrote those words, I was looking at a blog post of Briffa’s where he was scaremongering about the MMR vaccine causing autism. This time it’s rainfall (no, seriously). What does Briffa think? Here’s an abridged version of some of his views:

Of course one other possibility is that rain is actually causing autism. Not the water part of rain, of course, but something that may come with it. The stand-out suspect here is the heavy metal mercury. While the authors of the study do not mention mercury specifically, they cite a study in support of their theory that environmental toxins may cause autism which focused on the potential role mercury plays in autism. […] The authors of the rainfall study admit their study does not prove that the existence of an environmental trigger for autism, but say that their results are consistent with this idea. They add that further research into whether such a trigger exists is warranted. At the current time, we don’t know whether rain can cause autism or not. But the fact of the matter remains that through the delivery of mercury or some other toxin(s), it might.

Way to go Dr John – that is some mighty impressive scaremongering. I’m not sure how mercury causing autism fits in with his previous post on MMR (a vaccine that never contained mercury) causing autism. Does he still believe that MMR is a likely cause of autism and, if not, will he be retracting his previous blog post? If he does still think MMR a likely cause of autism, then where does mercury from rain fit in to his theory? Or is he simply going to list everything that correlates with autism rates and claim that every single one might cause autism?
Photobucket

 

I ought to acknowledge the figure came from an article in Prescriber by Paula McDonald (Former Consultant in Communicable Disease Control in Cheshire & Wirral). Thanks to Anthony of http://www.blacktriangle.org/blog/?p=425 for attribution details.

Briffa’s post

19 Comments

  1. Neuroskeptic said,

    “At the current time, we don’t know whether rain can cause autism or not. But the fact of the matter remains that through the delivery of mercury or some other toxin(s), it might.”

    Before the election I was persistently worried that Obama would lose. I knew that all the polls said that this was almost impossible, and all the experts were sure he’d win. But I still worried.

    This is the kind of psychology that Briffa is feeding into. There’s no good evidence at all that mercury causes autism and all experts reject it… but still, it MIGHT! And that’s genuinely scary. Now if there was a theory that mercury in rain caused acne, no-one would care. It’s just that autism scares people so much.

  2. jdc325 said,

    “This is the kind of psychology that Briffa is feeding into.”
    Exactly – and I like your Obama analogy.

  3. jdc325 said,

    Here is another blog that’s looked at Precipitation and Autism. (Spotted via Gonzo girl’s miniblog).

    Post 1
    Post 2

  4. Andrew said,

    I think Briffa now falls under the remit of Dr*T’s First Theorem.

  5. Smart Bombs said,

    I love that cartoon chart – I think that would look good on a T-shirt!

  6. draust said,

    Joy. Another instalment in the Briff-ster’s campaign to persuade you that water is bad for you. Tap water gives you cancer, rain water poisons you with mercury… it’s a wonder any of us are still here.

    Tap water, as you may recall, gives you cancer (well, it doesn’t, of course, but don’t let that put you off a good scare-story) whether you drink it or wash in it.

    I wonder what the Briff-ster is washing in these days? Asses’ milk?

    Or no doubt some “natural water products” company will sell you some incredibly expensive “ion exchange purification” system to remove mercury from your bath and shower water. Kerr-chinnng!

  7. jdc325 said,

    Cheers Andrew – Dr* T’s First Theorem is a good one.

    Smart Bombs – yeah, it’s not bad. Another one I remember is the Bad Science “tell your friends…” bib.

    DrAust – yes, I remember that drinking water (or bathing in it) can be deadly. I think one interesting thing about the Briffa post you dissected is that the information the Briffster missed out seemed to be as important as the information he included.

  8. jdc325 said,

    Another bunch of links on the paper:
    Orac; SBM; I have a link to David Kirby discussing this on the Huffington Post site; also an editorial on the paper.

  9. jonhw said,

    I just noticed that Briffa footnotes a BMJ rapid response – which he wrote himself – in the same comments thread where the first response was made http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/329/7469/755 I’m not sure what that tells us, but I thought it was noteworthy for some reason…

  10. draust said,

    The Briff-ster is so proud of the two e-letters of his that the BMJ have actually run in the print edition that he actually lists them in his online CV as “Medical Journal Publications”.

  11. colmcq said,

    I wonder if Briffa uses a Brita water filter?

    *cheers and applause*

    Thankyou!! You’ve been a great audience!

  12. LeeT said,

    Good grief. Tap water causes cancer and now rain causes autism. What next – swimming causes skin cancer or possibly snow causes [blank]?

    Why are nutrition therapists that we get our fluid from water? If I were them I would be avoiding it like the plague. “Say no to water”. Is there a title

  13. Dr* T said,

    *walks over and clips ColMcq’s ear*

  14. jdc325 said,

    jonhw, draust – yeah, the sef-referencing comments in the Rabid Responses and the online cv are interesting. To be fair, he did write for the People’s Medical Journal* for some time and that’s only listed as “Print Journalism”. I guess he felt that “The T-Cell response to Haptenated Insulins. 1: The Proliferative Response” on its own looked a bit bare. Shame really – it’s possibly the single most interesting thing he has ever been involved in writing.
    *Daily Mail for the uninitiated.

    colmcq – that is so bad that people who know me are going to assume I’ve written it. He could also use a Biffa Water Filter, but I’ve heard they’re a load of rubbish.

    LeeT – gah, you’re right. The hydrationistas (TM Dr Aust) would have you believe that you must obtain your daily fluid intake from drinking water. This isn’t true, but what happens if you attempt to get a portion of your fluid intake from tomato or apple juice? Everyone knows that they contain deadly methanol. Heh. So now we can’t drink cancerous water, or those frightfully dangerous alternatives such as fruit juice or artificially sweetened soft drinks. Obviously the only thing left for me now is booze. Thankfully, the media are constantly telling me that red wine is good for me and that teetotallers are less healthy than moderate drinkers so it must be OK. Erm. Unless they have failed to account for the fact that teetotallers are likely to be different from drinkers in other ways (and that the term ‘teetotaller’ may apply to a recovering alcoholic with liver damage as well as a virtuously healthy never-drinker). Not that we should let caveats such as those to get in the way of our heartfelt wish that booze be good for us.

  15. john said,

    So answer this, thou who knowest everything and likes slagging people off.Statistics say that cases of Autism have multiplied 10-15 times since the early 80s and are now 1 in 50 children–Dr Blaylock.
    You have heard of him? This coincides with the beginning of mass vaccinations, many of which contain mercury or thimerosal because they come in 10 dose phials,so need a preservative.That doesn’t prove the mercury autism link, but it looks suspicious, and this woman’s compensation shoots holes in your statement.
    Now that the US Government has admitted vaccines cause autism, it’s just a case of refining the hunt to find the culprit[s]. Whether it’s mercury or not is hardly relevant when you are giving infants 30 or 40 vaccinations before they are 3.
    Vaccinations compromise the immune system and prevent it building it’s own defence. I am 70. I had mumps, measles, and chicken pox as a child. This was considered normal. I had a vaccination for smallpox but that was all. I haven’t been sick since.
    The simple truth is that vaccines don’t work, and never have done.
    Dr Salk who patented the polio vaccine has admitted that almost all cases of polio after 1961 were caused by his vaccine.
    Of course you can get the swine flu vaccine without thimerosal, if it is a single dose phial. That’s what the Officials are getting.
    If you are stupid enough to take it and believe in the hype, you deserve all that’s coming to you.
    You would be far better off taking 5000iu of
    Vitamin D, but we don’t want you doing that do we?

    “I filed for disability, and my son receives a cheque each month: I proved to the social security administration that he has mercury poisoning and viral inflammation of the brain from the MMR. At least they believed me with all his test results.
    Elaine Dow, Annapolis, Maryland, USA, of Advocates for Children’s Health Affected by Mercury Poisoning (ACHAMP) 26.05.07

    You think these officials were conned? Getting compensation from any Government is like getting blood from a stone.

  16. jdc325 said,

    @john:

    Oh dear, where to start? At the beginning, I guess.

    1. I don’t think I have claimed to know everything or to enjoy “slagging people off” – would you mind keeping your criticism of my views to those that I actually hold, rather than making things up?

    2. “Statistics say that cases of Autism have multiplied 10-15 times since the early 80s and are now 1 in 50 children.” Diagnostic criteria have changed. It is no surprise that the number of people being diagnosed as autistic has increased. Your use of “coincide” is entirely apt, as the increase in diagnosis may coincide with the use of vaccination – this doesn’t mean there is causation. Public and professional awareness of ASD has also increased. Is there any reason to believe that changes in diagnostic criteria and awareness do not explain the apparent increase in autism diagnoses? I’m not sure about your figure of 1 in 50 though – as far as I’m aware, those researching ASD tend to give a figure of around 1 in 100 children rather than 1 in 50. Curiously, this matches the figure in adults: NHS (discussed further here: LBRB). I also found your choice of researcher interesting – Blaylock appears to believe in immune overload, that mercury causes autism, and that autism is an auto-immune disease. You might like to read this blog post, which discusses the views of Richard Halvorsen on vaccines and autism. They are rather similar to Blaylock’s views – and they are not supported by the available evidence.

    3. “Now that the US Government has admitted vaccines cause autism.” Reference, please. I don’t think that the US govt has conceded that vaccines cause autism. Please provide evidence to support your assertion. You might find the following article interesting. It begins “Federal authorities’ concession that vaccine preservatives may have aggravated at least one girl’s autism.” Note the use of “aggravated” rather than “caused” and note also the use of the word “may”. You may also find this part of the article interesting: The government “has not conceded that vaccines cause autism,” said Linda Renzi, the lawyer representing federal officials. Examiner. It is also worth noting that Elaine Dow’s comment (which you seem to be relying on as substantiation for your assertion that the govt has conceded that vaccines cause autism) seems to imply that her child has mercury poisoning from administration of the MMR vaccine – I should point out that this vaccine has never contained mercury.

    4. “Whether it’s mercury or not is hardly relevant when you are giving infants 30 or 40 vaccinations before they are 3.” You seem to be referring to immune overload due to vaccination. I suggest you read this page and the studies linked to.

    5. “Vaccinations compromise the immune system and prevent it building it’s own defence.” Please provide evidence for this assertion.

    6. “I am 70. I had mumps, measles, and chicken pox as a child. This was considered normal.” You were lucky. Are you aware how serious mumps can be? And of the complications of measles? Look at some of the figures here on measles complications: link.

    7. “The simple truth is that vaccines don’t work, and never have done.” This is a bizarre assertion – take a look at the link I give above regarding measles complications, there are some graphs and figures that quite clearly show that MMR vaccination is effective against measles. Look what happened when vaccine coverage dropped – measles cases rose.

    8. “You would be far better off taking 5000iu of
    Vitamin D, but we don’t want you doing that do we?” If it worked, then I don’t think that anyone would have a problem with people taking vitamin D. If it had been shown to work, you would be able to post evidence to support the assertion that we would be “better off taking 5000iu of vitamin D” rather than choosing to vaccinate.

    9. “Getting compensation from any Government is like getting blood from a stone.” Not true – if you can show that an injury found on the Vaccine Injury Table occurred then you are eligible for compensation under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. You don’t even need to prove that it was caused by vaccination. Note also that for those injuries where proof is required, “The burden of proof is the civil-law preponderance-of-the-evidence standard, in other words a showing that causation was more likely than not.”

  17. zeno said,

    All the usual canards, I see. Well answered, jdc.

  18. Peter Bowditch said,

    “I proved to the social security administration that he has mercury poisoning and viral inflammation of the brain from the MMR”

    Wow! Someone proved that something containing no mercury caused mercury poisoning. I think I detect a Nobel Prize in Chemistry coming up. What’s next – transmutation of lead into gold?

    And people keep asking why I call anti-vaccination liars “liars”.

  19. Glen said,

    Now, the Obama administration’s EPA Chief, Lisa Jackson has announced that she wants to put in tougher standards for our drinking water – TO PREVENT AUTISM. She has presented no science to support this conclusion, as far as I know. I imagine that Obama supporters are wondering WTF did I do when I voted for this bozo.

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