As is quickly shaping up as somewhat of a popular issue within the Skeptiverse, Meryl Dorey (president of the anti-vaccine lobby group the Australian Vaccination Network) will be giving a talk at this year’s Woodford Folk Festival.
This fact has been widely denounced, with Meryl Dorey’s unsuitability to comment on vaccines echoing throughout the blogosphere, as well as on the radio and television. For those unfamiliar with the AVN, the Network was the subject of a year-long investigation by the New South Wales Health Care Complaints Commission (NSW HCCC) which found that the AVN:
- provides information that is solely anti-vaccination
- contains information that is incorrect and misleading
- quotes selectively from research to suggest that vaccination may be dangerous.
The report finishes by stating that “the AVN provides information that is inaccurate and misleading”. Given these findings, there have been several complaints to the local council and state government (who sponsor the festival) that they are effectively allowing Meryl Dorey to peddle incorrect and misleading information that a government report has found represents a danger to public health and safety.
More recently, however, Executive Director of the Festival, Bill Hauritz, has defended the decision to include Meryl Dorey in the festival line-up, ultimately defending the move with the statement “Everyone has the right to their opinion”, though without commenting on his interviewer’s inquiry as whether that right extends to their own facts. Meryl Dorey has been shown to disseminate misinformation in seminars before, and already, we can see she plans to in the upcoming presentation.
The title of Dorey’s talk is billed as “Autism Emergency – 1 Child in 38 with Meryl Dorey”. This title is derived from a study which attempted to estimate the true prevalence of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) with a comprehensive 5 year survey of South Korean schoolchildren. The study estimated the prevalence of children with ASDs amongst the general population to be one child in thirty eight, or a prevalence of 2.64 percent. Even ignoring the large drop-out rate and the increased likelihood of parents of children with ASD symptoms to complete the survey, this represents a significant increase from the previous 1:100 estimate of the prevalence of ASDs in the general population. But does this study indicate a recent increase in the prevalence of ASDs, as Dorey’s alarmist title for her talk seems to suggest? Not according to the authors:
“It doesn’t mean all of a sudden there are more new children with [autism spectrum disorders],” said co-author Dr. Young-Shin Kim of the Yale Child Study Center. “They have been there all along, but were not counted in previous prevalence studies.”
Neurologist Stephen Novella, whose discussion of the study I highly recommend, is of a similar opinion. It seems that science is simply getting better at estimating the prevalence of ASD-associated traits in the general population. It doesn’t mean society is experiencing an ‘Autism Emergency’ but rather that there are many people in the general population who fall onto the autism spectrum, yet suffer no severe impairments, who are identified when a more rigorous search for them is performed. The prevalence rates appear to be dependent upon the current diagnostic criteria and the rigour of the study, with no good evidence yet out to suggest a real increase in ASD prevalence.
Perhaps someone should tell Meryl Dorey, so that she knows not to jump into an alarmist ‘ZOMG! Autism epidemic!’ rant?
Oh, wait, I already did. Soon after Meryl Dorey tweeted about this study:
I alerted her to the author’s comment, which neatly pointed out that Meryl’s statement that the rate is ‘up’ was incorrect:
Her immediate response? To block my twitter account:
Meryl Dorey is aware her characterisation of the study is incorrect, yet continues to repeat it. It seems that she can’t even get past the title of her talk without lying to her audience.