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The Age of Autism before thimerosal

Posted Sep 27 2010 9:58pm

Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill have written a book, The Age of Autism. It expands on Mr. Olmsted’s UPI series of the same name and uses the same logic: build a narrative that links mercury to illnesses and claim this as proof that mercury is the cause.

One can download the first 46 pages of the book for free on iTunes, buy the book, wait for it to come to your library or used book story (don’t count on the used bookstore route. Last report I got was only about 600 books sold in the opening time for this book). Or, one could just not read it ever.

If you want just an idea of what the book is about you can read a short excerpt on the publisher’s website. It starts with this simple statement:

We believe that autism was newly discovered in the 1930s for the simple reason that it was new.

Why was it new? If I understand the logic, the idea is that a new mercury compound was invented and tested around that time: thimerosal. From a recent interview, here are Dan Olmsted’s words:

What we did really was try to trace the rise of autism and that led us to look at the first eleven families who had children diagnosed in the 1930’s .. in the famous paper. We were able to identify seven of those first eleven kids, who were only known by their first name and last initial. When we did, we found what we thought was significant exposure of the family to mercury, in particular a new kind of mercury that came on the market .. that was used in fungicides for agriculture and in vaccines. So, we think as that happened, the first cases appeared. Then it seemed reasonable to believe that when the vaccine schedule that included much more mercury exploded in the 1990’s and so did autism .. there’s probably a connection that has been missed here.

First eleven kids? First studied or first with autism? They seem to be asserting that these are, indeed, the first autistics ever.


Thimerosal was invented in 1927
. What strikes me odd about the position of Mr. Blaxill and Mr. Olmsted is that ten years before the invention of thimerosal, someone was born who would later be diagnosed with autism and receive support from the California Department of Developmental Services (CDDS) under the label “autism”. I know this because the data are publicly available. The CDDS data have been used for years to promote the idea of a vaccine-induced autism epidemic. Of course Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill are aware of these datasets as their colleague David Kirby made use of them many times over the years in his promotion of autism as vaccine injury, starting with his book “Evidence of Harm, Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy.”

Here is a list of the birth year and the number of people for each birth year who were getting services from the CDDS (note that these data were from the 1990’s. Some or all of these autistics may have passed on):

Birth-year number of CDDS consumers under the autism label
1930 1
1929 2
1928 3
1924 1
1923 1
1922 3
1917 1

There were not a lot of autsitics born before 1930 and still alive receiving services in the 1990’s, this is true. But, the oldest person in that group was 78 at the time. That’s one year older than Donald T. is this year, for those following that story. .Be that as it may, there are a number of CDDS consumers who were born before thimerosal was invented. It would be unwise to assume that these are all the people born before 1930 who were diagnosed autistic. They are but an example.

From what I’ve read, Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill spent about five years looking for the origins of autism (the time since Mr. Olmsted’s original UPI series of articles). They traveled internationally and, from their description at least, appear to have left no stone unturned in their search.

I wonder, did they ever challenge their assumption that autism was new? Did they seek out autistics who predated thimerosal and/or those who weren’t research subjects of Dr. Kanner? Or did they merely rework and expand on Mr. Olmsted’s previous work on Kanner’s subjects?

In their statement attempting to distance themselves from anti-vaccine groups, Mr. Olmsted and Mr. Blaxill state:

We don’t want crops to wither, or houses to rot, or children to die of vaccine- preventable illnesses. We simply want to stop an autism epidemic whose origin we believe can be discerned from a careful examination of its environmental history.

“Careful” examination. I wonder.

  1. Julian Frost:
    Sullivan, I don't know if you saw the news reports about William McGonagall, widely regarded as the worst English language poet in history. Experts are claiming that he may have been autistic. He was born in 1825, and thus predates thimerosal by over a century. Also, I believe a very strong case can be made that Isaac Newton was autistic. Looks like you're right. Their "careful" examination wasn't so careful after all.
  2. Scott:
    I think you are being a little unfair. They did conduct a careful examination. They started with their conclusion (Thiomersal = Autism) and then carefully cultivated a story to support that, while carefully ignoring any of those pesky facts that would contradict their beliefs. And then, of course, they carefully ignored the last 10-12 years when the exposure to thiomersal has almost disappeared and autism has not changed.
  3. Dawn:
    And, of course, what B & O ignore is NOT that Kanner found a new disease. What Kanner did was simply identify the existing symptoms and combine the symptoms into an identifiable separate syndrome. Kanner, himself, IIRC, recognized that many of those children could have been given a diagnosis of schizophrenia. And he found 11 within a short time period for his case study. So...a rare disease? More like a disease that has always been around, and hidden within families or warehoused in institutions (where Donald HAD been until his mother removed him against the doctor's wishes, and where 4 of Kanner's 11 died.)
  4. Barbara:
    Hans Asperger's clinic was 'observing' an autistic Professor of Maths for 30 years, before 1944, when Asperger mentioned this in his PhD. So that's 1914, huh? I wonder if B&O tracked that one down? Asperger was lecturing on children with autism in 1938.
  5. Chris:
    I recently read the biographies of and . They both seemed fairly autistic, and there is speculation in the very long and detailed Dirac biography.

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