This post shows the scientific connections between autism, vaccines, and the deficiencies in the biology textbooks recently recommended for high schools by the Louisiana State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). It answers the recent post by philosopher (Forrest B) who has 4 papers in the Web of Science database defending 19th century Darwinian philosophy, cited 1 time, compared against 41 scientific papers for Oller JW cited hundreds of times, and 255 for Wakefield AJ in medicine and biology (gastroenterology) cited many more times. (See Wakefield’s 2010, Callous Disregard.)
The essence of Barbara Forrest’s post on December 2, 2010 at 2:20 AM was to question the connections between autism, vaccines, and the biology books recently recommended for Louisiana high school students by BESE. The books were challenged on the basis of current scientific evidences as being outdated, dogmatic, and incorrect at many points while they were defended on the basis of 19th century philosophy.
In his comment on the BESE discussion, Mark Moseley, was correct in suggesting, at least, that critics of the outdated, doctrinaire, dumbed down books spoke about current biological science, while the defenders of the 19th century orthodoxy (who would win BESE’s approval, and who had not read the “new” biology textbooks) defended the books on the basis of 19th century dogma. Does the defense of the books sound like circular reasoning? That’s because it is. The defense of the dogma relies on more of the same. But is it true?
One of the points defended was Aristotle’s definition of epigenetics grounded in his observations of stages of development in a chicken embryo—stages that have nothing to do with modern epigenetic studies which concern, among other things interactions between DNA and retroviral processes that modify DNA. Such processes are now known to be pervasive and require radical rethinking of the principle that Francis Crick called “the central dogma” of biology.
The biology books, for this year, incidentally, were near verbatim copies of the ones on display 8 years ago, but these have new copyright dates, some as recent as 2012. But that’s two years from 2010, isn’t it? And when were these books actually written?
One high school biology teacher, in defending the “new” books (which she had not reviewed) said, “We don’t have time to teach epigenetics” which she started to define in a way that showed she didn’t know what it is about. Another defender of the status quo, a gaunt impressive scholarly looking LSU professor, an expert in epigenetics, argued (at the BESE meeting on December 7, 2010) in favor of the current list of books on the basis of his experience with high school biology texts back when he was in high school in Louisiana.
He argued that studying anomalies refuting basic claims of current genetic theory, ones he is uncovering now in his own current research at LSU, would be too difficult for Louisiana high school students. According to him, they first need to learn the simpler, though incorrect, orthodox theory about the genetic code which he believes makes it easier for them to understand the Darwinian philosophy. Privately, he admitted that the long rejected Lamarckism comes closer to a valid explanation of what epigenetic research is uncovering, but to present Louisiana high schools students with the problems that are coming up, would only confuse them. Had he read the books? “No,” he said he had not.
The essence of the problem can be seen in the diagram from Francis Crick’s original “dogma” proposed in 1958 and defended in 1970. The dogma was that information flows only from DNA to RNA and then to proteins, never from the cell’s proteins back to DNA.
The “central dogma” defines the problem presented by current epigenetic findings. Retroviruses, in particular, refute the dogma. The current findings are not too difficult for high school students to understand, but they do change the game.
They are like Pasteur’s long neglected demonstrations (1859-1864) that life does not spontaneously arise from “inert” matter. Pasteur’s question was this:
Could not matter, perhaps, organize itself? Or posed differently, could not creatures enter the world without parents, without forebears? This is the question I seek to resolve. (Pasteur, 1864, p. 1)
Pasteur 1864 On Spontaneous Generation is easily understood by high school students and is definitive with respect to the present controversy over the biology textbooks. Pasteur is credited with ushering in the germ theory of disease, providing a basis for sanitation as well as well as the theory underlying vaccination, by demonstrating that the theory of spontaneous generation was false. The fatal implication of the latter finding for the Darwinian orthodoxy (that chance gives rise to the whole biosphere) was supposedly removed by supposing that what could not occur in Pasteur’s beakers over several years time, could occur in some prebiotic soup, provided the experiment took place over 1.1 billion years or so.
The Hurdle and the Pitfall
Since Pasteur and Darwin (who were contemporaries), science has advanced a lot, especially in linguistics and genetics and in our understanding of sign systems in general. When Darwin proposed random mutation and natural selection as the blind, mute, blunt tools that supposedly generated by accident all the order of the universe, he was actually just talking about the biosphere. However, his theory has been transmogrified into a more general all-encompassing philosophy that is, supposedly, made more plausible by adding a few billion years, 20 or so for the whole universe, about 4.6 for the earth, and 3.5 (according to one grisled LSU presenter who was absolutely certain about it all) for the first living organism which, according to the dogma, somehow muddled forward through death and mayhem to arrive eventually where we are today with all the diversity of the present biosphere. I guess I should throw in here that some of my best friends believe that scenario. However, as Will Rogers is sometimes quoted as saying, “It ain’t what you don’t know that hurts you. It’s what you know that ain’t so. That’s what hurts you.”
The problem for scientists is that mathematical logic and the empirical data are not cooperating well with the dogmatic 19th century orthodoxy. That dogma runs into scientific problems that are, from the side of mathematical logic, infinitely higher than Richard Dawkin’s Mount Improbable on the one hand, and that are accompanied by genetic pitfalls that are are as deep and irremediable as death and extinction on the other hand. Meanwhile, data from every conceivable source keep coming up that just don’t fit the predictions of the 19th century dogma.
The fossil record is void of viable transitions as noted by paleontologist, Stephen Jay Gould (1977a, 1977b) and the mathematical problems of getting order from chance interactions of atoms, according to astronomer Fred Hoyle (1983), only get worse as we stretch out the time scale. Hoyle concluded that the orthodox dogma of biology can easily be seen to be false.
The orthodox theory (“a trajectory which all lines of thought must follow,” according to Teilhard de Chardin) requires that random changes in nothing at all can lead to the material atoms of the visible universe, then to galaxies, our solar system, and the earth’s delicately balanced ecosystem. From there more random arrangements of atoms must accidentally produce the polymers of life, the first organism, and eventually the whole of the present biosphere including the unique human language capacity—the capacity which enables us to discuss all these things.
The essential difficulty is that every step presents a logical problem that has been shown to be insurmountable by strict mathematical logic. The engineering problem posed by irrefragable proofs is how to successfully model the claims of the 19th century dogma in a way that works computationally. That is, the engineering problem is to show how matter can accidentally arrange itself into all the order required for life’s proteins, for DNA and the living organisms that can read it and interpret it into proteins of life, and so forth. A viable computational model for any of the foregoing steps, however, is still missing.
Buried within the discussion that has both preceded and followed the December 7, 2010 BESE meeting about the biology books is a valid question. implied by Barbara Forrest, Mark Moseley, and others:
How are autism, vaccines, the language capacity, genetics, epigenetics, retroviruses, toxicology, embryology, brain development, and the unique human language capacity related to scientific challenges of 19th century Darwinism — challenges that are more and more evident on every hand?
Mark Moseley implies that the 4D Ultrasound movie showing an unborn baby smiling in the womb (thanks to scans provided by Dr. Stuart Campbell at Create Health Clinic in London) is only distantly related to the more legitimate questions of modern biology that advocates of the 19th century dogma believe ought to be, exclusively (no other options), found in the high school textbooks. No questions or objections to that theory, according to its defenders, should be allowed.
That aside, I believe that Forrest and Moseley suggest some genuine questions of their own that should be addressed. They deserve an explicit answer showing how the subjects in the title of this post are related. The research showing the connections between autism, vaccines, and biological science has been developed over several decades and has reached that level where it can easily be understood by high school biology students.
Let’s begin with some observations about the now known links between the on-going autism epidemic and vaccines. From there we can easily see the basis for all the other connections. The arguments are abstract at their basis, but the current state of science and our present communication tools make them easily accessible. They are within reach of Louisiana’s high school students and their teachers.
The Issues Are Biological
According to The Age of Autism authors, Olmsted and Blaxill (2010), one thing that is agreed on in all of the ongoing controversies about the growing autism epidemic is “the centrality of biology, whether it’s genetics or toxicology, in getting to the roots of the autism problem” (p. 294).
Another point on which the agreement goes back to the diagnosis of 11 cases of autism by Leo Kanner (1943) is that autism has been defined from the beginning by its disruption of “those functions distinctively human” (Olmsted & Blaxill, 2010, p. 295)—especially, damage to the unique human language capacity and all the social connections that capacity normally enables.
There is an overwhelming body of evidence from toxicology research showing that autism (and its related problems of gut disease, sensory issues, seizures, etc.) and its “behavioral” manifestations (hand-flapping, head-banging, panic tantrums that can last for hours, etc.) are caused by toxins (notably organic mercury, especially, ethylmercury), disease agents (measles virus and rubella are known factors), and their interactions (Oller & Oller, 2010; Olmsted & Blaxill, 2010; and the references in both these books).
Sad to say, the most important sources of the offending factors are medicinal procedures with vaccination at the top of the list followed by dentistry’s use of silver (mercury) fillings.
The injurious factors causing the main symptoms of severe autism (damage to linguistic capacity, gut disease, sensory abnormalities, motor tics and/or loss of motor control in speech) invariably involve disruption of genetic and epigenetic interactions from DNA, through RNAs (many of them highly transient), to bodily proteins and organic systems (especially the gut and brain). The cascading series of disruptions are known from many toxicology studies and sound theory to affect communications between the body’s defense and repair systems right down to the level of the molecular identifiers of an individual’s cells and the mitochondrial engines that enable us to produce energy.
In a nutshell, we know that autism involves disruptions in communication systems from the body’s immune defenses dependent on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA all the way up to the neurological development of the central nervous system and the distinctly human language capacity.
At the basis of all such disorders as autism, and of its related disease conditions, are disruptions of biological language systems. From genetics upward, the language metaphor in biology, is the only game in town. If it were not for damage to the human language capacity that characterizes severe autism, it would not be the devastating disorder that it is. So, it follows that the unique human language capacity is central to biology and to the understanding of all the disorders, diseases, and injuries that disrupt the biological language systems from DNA upward. All disorders, diseases, and even mortality itself (and the extinction of a species) must involve (no exceptions) disruptions of the sort that are now known to be causal factors in the autism epidemic.
The Uniqueness of Human Language
As surprising as it seems, the entire edifice of 19th century Darwinian philosophy is being challenged. The most severe challenges are not so much the millions of missing transitions in the fossil record, something that Gould admitted and dismissed back in the 1970s, nor even the deeper mathematical problem posed by proofs (e.g., Hoyle, 1983) that “inert” matter cannot accidentally arise from nothing at all. It is true that matter cannot arrange itself magically into the polymers required for living things, and so on and so forth for every required transition to get from nothing at all to the whole of the biosphere. Not to minimize any of those infinitely high mountains and equally deep valleys, 19th century philosophy is currently being most seriously challenged on the basis of the entirely evident uniqueness of the human language capacity. Dolphins and apes are not having committee meetings to try to figure out how to deal with the problems presented to them by oil spills and pesticides.
It was in 1972 that Noam Chomsky first insisted on the proposition that for the human language capacity, there must be “special design.” Though he would be accused of being a “creationist” on that account, he actually preferred Gould’s theory that beneficial mutations in DNA could accumulate gradually over time and then suddenly express themselves, as in, for example, a talking ape.
Evolutionist, Terrence Deacon (1997), puts the scientific puzzle faced by the Darwinian orthodoxy in this way: first, he asserts that we are “apes” (the view held in the BESE adopted high school texts), but, on the other hand, we have the unique human language capacity (a problem the biology texts in BESE’s list, ignore). Thus, Deacon supposes, the current science of biology faces a “conundrum.” It is one not much worried about by apes and other species, but it troubles their more evolved cousins: “Where do human minds come from?”
Darwinists of all stripes have held that human minds, and our unique language capacity, come by natural selection from highly intelligent apes, e.g., chimps are pointed to as our nearest surviving biological relatives.
Yet current research with chimps disputes every proposed scenario by which the 19th century orthodoxy might be supported scientifically.
In their article, “Darwin’s Mistake,” Penn, Holyoak, & Povinelli (2008) sum up the ongoing current scientific controversy in the biological sciences and psychology as follows in the journal of Brain & Behavioral Sciences:
the hypothesis we will be proposing in the present paper is that Darwin was mistaken: The profound biological continuity between human and nonhuman animals masks an equally profound functional discontinuity between the human and nonhuman mind (p. 110; also see the same authors comment in the same journal 2009).
Interestingly, 19th century philosophy might suggest that the problem pointed out and under much current discussion, is limited to the “gap” between humans and nonhumans—the often mentioned “missing link.” But that would be a profound error. Thomas Suddendorf (2008), one of the distinguished discussants of the “unpopular hypothesis” proposed by Penn et al. (2008, 2009), argued that the problem they single out is completely general. He generalized the discontinuity to every possible transition across species—thus to all “transitional” positions throughout the whole of the biosphere.
In effect, all of the transitions, according to Suddendorf, involve the same sort of “discontinuities” millions of times over—or in the popular phrasing ever since Darwin, the “missing links” are at every juncture between species and higher classes. Suddendorf wrote:
Every species is unique. Humans are no different (p. 147).
Between them, Penn et al. and Suddendorf make the uniqueness of the human language capacity out to be a serious challenge to the whole of 19th century Darwinian philosophy.
Missing Links in the Biology Books
It was not just the defenders of the 19th century orthodoxy who missed a lot of the biological connections between DNA and human language. The interactions of control systems from DNA to human language are also missing from the biology books recommended by BESE. Here is a short list of huge gaps in the Louisiana biology texts with respect to current biological science:
- None addresses the profound and interesting problem of the unique human language capacity.
- Epigenetics, retroviruses, and control systems essential to life and the whole of the biosphere are ignored or grossly misrepresented (including HIV; no mention is made of the research with other retroviruses such as SV40 and links to Polio vaccines, cancer, etc.).
- Toxins, disease agents, and disruptions of communication systems that lead to disorders, diseases, and mortality are not discussed.
- The current slate of BESE biology books for Louisiana consists of near word for word copies of ones presented 8 years ago (but some of the “new” books claim copyrights originating in 2012).
- There is no mention of 4D moving pictures of unborn babies that explode many myths coming from 19th century Darwinism.
- The BESE appointed committee, according to one of its distinguished members who testified at the meeting on December 7, 2010, rushed through the process at the last minute without examining the books—not even with respect to public comments that were presented and that are required to be considered by law.
- Ones with “Louisiana” on the cover were dumbed down, abridged, on cheaper paper, with lower reading level.
- Advocates in favor of the list said discussing “epigenetics” and “retroviruses” which challenge Crick’s “central dogma of biology” would be too hard for Louisiana students to understand. (Important epigenetic interactions by retroviruses, which are exceedingly common, modify DNA, contrary to Darwin’s theory and contrary to “the central dogma of biology” from Francis Crick.)
- No mention is made in any of the books of Darwin’s claim (1874) in The Descent of Man, that Blacks are closer to apes than Caucasians like himself.
Why was that left out? Interestingly, the orthodox dogma has led to some very unsavory historical connections along with a lot of false science about supposedly useless vestigial organs (that doctors commonly just cut out and throw away) and the rapidly diminishing theory of “junk DNA”…. But those issues are best left for another post. An excellent defense of Wakefield, incidentally, can be found in Olmsted and Blaxill (2010, pp. 260-294).
Meantime, comments on this post are welcomed. And here are the references cited in it.
Chomsky, N. A. (1972). Language and Mind. New York: Harcourt.
Crick, F.H.C. (1958). On Protein Synthesis; Symp. Soc. Exp. Biol., 12, 139–163.
Crick, F.H.C. (1970). Central Dogma of Molecular Biology. Nature, 227, 561–563.
Darwin, C. (1874). The Descent of Man (2nd edition). New York: A. I. Burt Co.
Deacon, T. W. (1997). The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Human Brain. New York: W. W. Norton.
Dawkins, R. (1996). Climbing Mount Improbable; Norton: New York, NY, USA.
Gould, Stephen J. (1977a). This view of life: the return of hopeful monsters. Natural History 86.6, pp. 22, 24, 28, 30.
Gould, Stephen J. (1977b). This view of life: evolution’s erratic pace. Natural History 86.5, pp. 12, 14, 16.
Hoyle, Fred. (1983). The Intelligent Universe. London: Michael Joseph.
Kanner, L. (1943). Autistic disturbances of affective contact. Nervous Child, 2, 217–250.
Oller, J. W., Jr., & Oller, S. D. (2010). Autism: The Diagnosis, Treatment, & Etiology of the Undeniable Epidemic. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Penn, D. C., Holyoak, K. J., & Povinelli, D. J. (2008). Darwin’s mistake: Explaining the discontinuity between human and nonhuman minds. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 31, 109-178. DOI:10.1017/S014525X08003543
Penn, D. C., Holyoak, K. J., & Povinelli, D. J. (2009). Universal grammar and mental continuity: Two modern myths. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 32(5), 462-464. DOI:10.1017/S014525X09990719
Olmsted, D. & Blaxill, M. (2010). The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Pasteur, L. (1864). On spontaneous generation. An address delivered by Louis Pasteur at the “Sorbonne Scientific Soirée” of April 7, 1864. Originally in Revue des cours scientifics, 23 Avril 1864, I, 1863-64, pp. 257-264; this text incorporates Pasteur’s handwritten corrections. English translation commissioned 1993 by Bruno Latour copyright by Alex Levine, all rights reserved.
Suddendorf, T. (2008). Explaining human cognitive automorphies. Behavioral & Brain Sciences, 31, 147-148. DOI:10.1017/S014525X08003737
Wakefield, A. J. (2010) Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines–the Truth Behind a Tragedy. New York: Skyhorse Publishing.