A Review of Insidevaccines’ “Scary Stats IV: Polio”.
I was very interested to see how well this claim held up. Vaccines are by no means perfect, they do cause injury, and it is possible that they cause at least some cases of autism. Any clarity on vaccine science, even if it points toward an uncomfortable truth, is a good thing. However, one will not find that at Insidevaccines. The first two articles I reviewed had rather remarkable errors of logic and science, this one was no different.
The worst problem in the article is the graph of polio over the years that appears early in the article. It correlates polio with DDT and other chemicals. This is cherry picking on an absolutely epic level. The authors at Insidevaccines state that the discussion will not address the relationship between DDT and polio. The authors give their rationale for using this graph as being that it begins earlier and gives a more accurate picture of the pattern and extent of disease notifications prior to the Salk vaccine. Further, Insidevaccines links to the same or similar graph stretching back further into the 1800s and based on general historical commentary to produce the data points.
The source of the graph is a New Age site promoting a range of metaphysical ideas and alternative medicine, complete with advertising tours for sacred places of power. However, what is interesting is that the site author does not even get simple ideas like incidence correct. Further still, the site author doesn’t mention how s/he obtained the data for the first half of the 20th century.
So, this is what Insidevaccines leaves us; a graph the veracity of which we cannot check, which attempts to correlate DDT and other chemicals to Polio. I argue that their choice was an inappropriate and ill served their readership. That they did not address the argument for DDT as a cause of polio is no excuse. In the realm of science, even in the realm of popular science you present what you mean. If the authors at Insidevaccines do not agree with the DDT argument then they should have created their own graph. Or if they did agree they should have offered their support for this idea. By leaving it as is, their actions do lend themselves to charitable description.
The authors write (references removed):
“Depending on whether you consult the CDC data compiled for parents or the CDC data compiled for medical professionals, the fatality rate for paralytic polio is between either 2-5% or 5-10%."
If one journeys to the source one will see that the CDC is providing a general rate and then a rate for a specific age group.
“The actual historical data from the peak years: 19,794 avg. acute cases in 1941-1950, which is 0.6% of the total average births for the US from 1941-1950”
Actually, based on the sources the authors’ provide, they miscalculated here. It should be 1.0% of the total average births.
“In 1951-1954, an avg. 16,316 paralytic cases (notice that this data conveniently stops at the time of the definition change and the introduction of the Salk vaccine, thus implying that subsequent reduction in incidence is due to the vaccine. Unfortunately for this hypothesis, the Salk vaccine was shown to have very little positive effect, prompting the switch to the Sabin vaccine)”
A lesser effect is not the same as “little positive effect”. In fact in the field trials, the Salk vaccine was found to be over at least 60% effective for all subtypes of polio and often more than 90% effective (Smith, 1990).
“Based on Table 1, using the hypothetical birth cohort of 3,803,295 infants as stated in the article, we get 1,179 paralytic cases per year, with an estimated 23 (2%) to 118 (10%) deaths. For 60,974 cases of polio, using CDC metrics of 200:1 inapparent:paralytic (leaving aside how they can project an estimate for an inapparent infection), we would get 3,048 cases of paralytic polio, resulting in 61 (2%) to 305 (10%) deaths, rather than 723.”
The Insidevaccines authors are taking a rate from a single age group and trying to apply it across ages. This comparison has no validity.
“So, what can we conclude from these discrepancies and contradictions? The data doesn’t support the headlines. The numbers presented by vaccine defenders do not stand up to scrutiny.”
Actually it is the poor mathematical practice used by Insidevaccines that is the problem here.
“Our analysis above shows that data are not consistent within an individual publication, or from one publication to the next.”
Offering different rates based on age cohorts or via total should not be a problem for a careful reader. The authors at Insidevaccines have failed to exercise this concept.
“Sometimes, they do not even correlate with numbers from the CDC, an organization whose primary objective appears to be the defense of vaccines!”
This is a ridiculous claim. One does not have to like the CDC or even think they are good people, to recognize this claim as absurd.
“Is their work just sloppy, erroneous, or intentionally misleading? Are they so focused on marketing the vaccines that they are unwilling to critically parse the data? Perhaps they think parents aren’t paying attention.”
Insidevaccines has made basic errors in mathematics, reasonable comparison, data checking, and graphical presentation. Are they prepared to argue that they are paying attention?
In the first article I reviewed from Insidevaccines the authors note that many who advocate for vaccines want nothing to do selective or delayed vaccinators. The authors challenge this stance, as delayed or selective vaccinators may be allies who advocate for certain vaccines. In response, I wrote a number of concerns I think should be addressed before any collaboration was considered. I would like to add a few more.
I think potential allies:
Should accurately quote science
Should not pull graphical shenanigans
Should not mis-compare data
There is room for disagreement and debate in the world of vaccines and autism. Any site that offers science or criticism that illuminates the issue is a blessing. Unfortunately, it is clear that this role will not be fulfilled by Insidevaccines.
Smith, Jane S. (1990). Patenting the Sun: Polio and the Salk Vaccine.