When it comes to autism and vaccines, you need to know what both sides are saying, but that doesn't mean they deserve equal weight. Again, it's about belief vs. research. Akin to Intelligent Design vs. Evolution (the NOVA episode Intelligent Design on Trial is worth your time).
Consider the perspective of Alison Singer, science advocate, formerly of Autism Speaks, currently of the Autism Science Foundation. When she speaks on autism and vaccinations, on why parents make scientifically unsubstantiated choices, she does so with diplomacy and compassion:
SR: Why do you think scientifically refuted claims of autism causes (vaccinations) and cures (chelation, etc.) find such a wide audience?
AS: I think it’s because parents love their children so much. It’s very hard to accept that your child is going to struggle and have these tremendous challenges. It’s natural to want to blame someone or something. Believe me, I've been there. But parents need to look at the data. You can't be so focused on anger that you lose sight of what the science is saying because that's really not in the best interest of the kids. I would encourage parents to look at the science and make decisions based on the science. And the science is clear in the case of vaccines and autism. Vaccines don’t cause autism. I think families were right to ask that the vaccine studies be done in the late '90s and the early part of this decade, but our public health community really responded to that. And we now have dozens of studies looking at vaccines and vaccine components, all of which have yielded the same answer that, no, vaccines do not cause autism. I think we owe it to our families, we owe it to people with autism, to fund studies that are likely to yield new information. If you keep asking the same question, you're going to get the same answer. We have to ask new questions and try to find out what really is causing autism.For contrast, when antivaccinationist J.B. Handley of Age of Autism talks about Ms. Singer's perspectives on parents making scientifically refuted choices, he does so with rage and contempt, e.g., today's post: Alison Singer Mispeaks at Yale: Flaming Moron or a Flaming Liar? Excerpt:
"...Ms. Singer explained how many of us delusional parents have no training in the scientific method. With our tiny minds, we just don’t understand the science that’s being done around us to help our kids by the big guy, the benevolent public health system. With her snide tone and rolling eyes, we’re all supposed to understand that Ms. Singer is on the other side of this contrast: she gets it. The science. It’s the Autism SCIENCE Foundation, after all. Poor desperate parents with their teeny little minds, they are so gullible. And stupid."I cannot take people who froth and rage and point fiery fingers seriously, not when it comes to science, not when it comes to research, not when it comes to making decisions that affect children's welfare. While it sometimes seems that we autism parents are running on naught but passion, we also need to remain clearheaded about the choices we are making, and why we are making them.
There are children who have legitimate reactions to vaccines - but those reactions are rare. No science supports an autism/vaccine link, though a lot of science refutes it. I think a lot of parents - not all - become aware of their children's autism traits around the same time those kids get the big vaccinations. And since those parents then want answers about causation that scientists can't yet give them, they are vulnerable to angry people who claim they do have autism answers (see my BlogHer piece from last year: Identifying and Avoiding Autism Cults).
There is a lot of vehement misinformation out there, and you need to be able to parse it without falling into the emotional traps that believers like J.B. Handley lay so expertly. Be wary. Be smart. Be your child's champion.
Update: Turns out Emily was blogging along similar lines yesterday and today, with different examples and in tapestry-like detail (if you don't follow her, you should):
willful misinformationists like Dr. Andrew Wakefield heavyweight status, whereas an objective analysis gets Dr. Wakefield laughed out of the ring before the first bell.