Thursday, December 21, 2006

David Kirby Plays Fast and Loose With Facts

I've discussed fabrications related to autism before. A much more annoying phenomenon occurs when a single individual goes around making up significant claims that simply cannot be substantiated. I'm talking about David Kirby.

An article published by Herald Community Newspapers Online has irresponsibly echoed such claims by Kirby. The most outrageous claim in the article is perhaps the following:

He pointed to Denmark and Sweden to support his theory that there was a connection between an autism increase and Thimerosal. In 1992, both countries removed the mercury preservative from their vaccinations and have seen a remarkable drop in autism.

Not only is there no data to substantiate this claim, but it is known that what actually happened is the opposite of what this claim states. (At least in Sweden that is obvious, and although disputed to an extent in Denmark, there's no reason to think their administrative autism rates have declined at any point in time). I don't know if the paper quoted Kirby correctly, but there are several other direct quotes attributed to David Kirby. For example:

There was a huge spike in autism in 1992 when the Hepatitis B vaccine was added to the regular vaccination schedule for babies.

If you look at a graph of administrative prevalence of autism in the U.S. you will see there is an increase in the prevalence between 1992 and 1993, but it is a very small increase. There is no "huge spike" around 1992. There are no "huge spikes" at any time, but a gradual increase throughout the 1990s and beyond. The growth in prevalence between 2002 and 2003, for example, is much larger than anything that occurred around 1992.

Kirby on historic prevalence:

There were 1 in 10,000 children with autism in 1987 in the United States before the addition of Thimerosal.

This is absolutely not true, and cannot be substantiated by any epidemiological study. It is not clear where this statistic comes from at all, and I do not believe Kirby can produce an original source, nor can JB Handley, who has been asked to source the same claim previously. The first significant epidemiological study of autism was Lotter et al. (1967) which found a prevalence of 4.5 in 10,000 for Kanner autism as operationalized by Lotter. For a prevalence study around the year Kirby cites, see Ritvo et al. (1989), which found a prevalence of 4 in 10,000 in Utah.

There is a comment by one Michelle Soodek in the article which I wanted to note as well:

She reasoned that if there were just as many people with autism when she was a child, than where are the institutions and facilities to house all of these people that would now be adults?

Ms. Soodek is repeating a common mistake in reasoning by those who embrace the autism epidemic concept. She is assuming that most children currently diagnosed with autism would be institutionalized, and that rates of institutionalization for children diagnosed today is the same as that of children diagnosed 20 years ago. As I have shown using CDDS data, the total number of institutionalized developmentally disabled individuals in California has declined a little in the last 14 years. More institutions will not likely be needed in the future. To suggest otherwise is nothing but fear mongering. She is also promoting the idea that autistics naturally belong in institutions, which is a deplorable thing to do even if it was unintentional.

That's enough about that article. Let me now look at some of David Kirby's history of dubious claims. They started early on. For example, an infamous claim from his book, Evidence of Harm, was that Asperger's Syndrome is "also known as idiot-savant syndrome". This is clearly false if you consider the history of the terms.

What about his promotion of Evidence of Harm as the work of an impartial journalist? These days he refers to thimerosal hypothesis skeptics as "mercury defenders".

A more significant example of dishonesty is documented by Kevin Leitch. In an interview with the New York Times in 2005, David Kirby stated that autism rates should drop by the end of 2005. He later established his current goalpost of 2007 when he discussed the California numbers with Citizen Cain. Kev requested a clarification from Kirby, which was the following:

The Times misquoted me. I actually asked for a correction, but did not receive one. What I told the reporter is that "we should know in the next few years."

Kev actually apologized to David Kirby before he contacted the New York Times to verify Kirby's account. The Times replied as follows:

Prior to publication, we read the entire passage relating to this matter to Mr. Kirby. He approved it.

I do not know that Kirby addressed the issue further after Kev caught him lying.

I'm sure there are further examples of dishonesty from Mr. Kirby. Readers can provide additional instances if they wish to.

There will be a public debate between David Kirby and Arthur Allen on January 13 at 10 a.m. in the Price Center, University of California, San Diego. This debate is sponsored by TACA and Generation Rescue, who will no doubt attempt to stack up the audience against Mr. Allen. It would be nice if members of the skeptical community can attend.

I am sure Mr. Kirby will try to introduce some of these "facts" of his in the debate. The problem with a spoken debate format is that it allows such fabrications to occur. In that format it is more difficult to call your opponent on dubious claims and successfully show that the claims cannot be sourced. This is likely one reason why you don't see David Kirby debating in blogs, while accepting to debate in a standard spoken format. It has nothing to do with visibility, in my opinion, considering, for example, that Kev's blog has at least twice the readership size of the Autism Speaks website.


  1. I saw that bit about Denmark and Sweden's autism rates dropping and thought, now we know how low David Kirby can go.

    We already had parents desperate to turn their children into HappyFunKids, now we have a travel writer so desperate to salvage his career he's resorted to making wild fabrications.

    Lying sack of secretin.

  2. Well done Joseph. Here's a recent distortion from Kirby:
    "If you are a 100-pound woman, you should know that those 25 mcg of mercury will put you five times over the EPA daily exposure limit. Of course, if you are pregnant, most of the mercury will be absorbed by your fetus, which is good news for you, but...

    Really? Most, as in more than 50%? So when a pregnant mother is exposed to mercury most of it will accumulate in her fetus? Fascinating.

  3. In his pathetic book, Kirby quotes one of the pyscho mercury moms testimony about vaccines, without correcting it, and has repeated hte lie several times outside of his book. She said that vaccines contain "aborted fetal tissue"

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. It's a psycho antivaxer lie, just like the "all the mercury in the mom gets filtered out by the fetus." Sick people.

    He had some really stupid error in describing the location and appearance of the Hospital where Liz Birt took her child to see "Andy" Wakefield.

    His book says that mercury is the second most toxic substance on earth.

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Not even close.

    I have to get out the copy of Evidence of Smarm and start listing all the errrors in it. It really looks like he was hoping that all these lies would catch up with him and then he'd point the finger at the mercury parents and say "they told me it was true!!" Then he packs up his rainbow beach towels and heads for Mexico and lives happily ever after.... or something.

  4. I tried giving actual LD50 values over at Kirby's HufPo website, but no one seems interested in actual facts. What happens to the vials of unused Botox? I hope that's not going down the drain.

  5. Low and Inside12/22/2006 6:45 AM

    "now we know how low David Kirby can go."

    pah. don't be so sure. just wait until the book and speaking engagement money start to dry up. you'll see an upswing in the spastic rhetoric followed by a jump to a new topic?

    Mr. Kirby, might I suggest nanotechnology running away with itself? Instead of Bradstreet, the Geiers and other morons, you could base a book on the Lawnmower Man and the Matrix. or you could just go the source: Ghost in the Shell.

  6. It would be nice to have a full list of all factual errors from Kirby's book. You can title it "Evidence of Guy Making Stuff Up".

  7. It's not as if Evidence Of Not All That Much Harm is riddled with inaccuracies. It's just that Kirby's attempts to be "fair and balanced" are ludicrous. Basically, he'll take any mercury militia argument at face value, while deconstructing any opposing viewpoint to ridiculous degrees.

    He tries really hard to give the book the impression it's looking at both sides of the issue, but anyone with an IQ over 17 realizes where is bread is buttered, if you know what I mean.