Autism and Vaccines: Stand Up, Speak Up, Be Smart

We now have several mainstream articles per week on two autism and vaccine issues:
  1. Study after credible study finds NO link between vaccines and autism.
  2. Decreased vaccination rates jeopardize our children's health -- California is experiencing its worst whooping cough outbreak in 50 years, and it just so happens that the counties with the highest rates of whooping cough -- Sonoma and Marin -- also have the highest rates of families taking "personal belief" exemptions from school vaccination requirements.
Which means that those in autism causation misinformation camp are reduced to spreading their beliefs and false claims with foxhole-style fervor, as in today's HuffPo Deirdre Imus interview with two Age of Autism writers, Mark Blaxill and Dan Olmsted. Here's an excerpt:
Deirdre: "That certainly is contrary to what mainstream medicine and science is saying, which is that autism is basically a genetic disorder. Many argue that there has been no real increase, that it's just more awareness and better diagnosis. And the courts have ruled against families that have claimed that vaccines cause autism, and just recently shut the final door on those cases.

Mark: "That's certainly what some orthodox autism scientists have been saying, but that doesn't make it true. Some of these people, they've made careers of talking a lot, but what they're really saying is basically incoherent blather. The problem is the implications of an epidemic are so profound along so many dimensions, so foundation-shaking that the medical industry and establishment are kind of circling the wagons. But at their core, their arguments make no sense." [Emphasis mine -SR]
I really hope that smart readers, like you, will read through the entire article and not take my word for  why it stinks. That you don't actually need me to point out Blaxill's and Olmsted's information shaping and emotional bait-laying: that because of their backgrounds in loving statistics and  professional journalism, we should believe them and their charged interpretations of data -- and not the "blathering" scientists who as a professional rule present their findings neutrally.

I know why people like Blaxill and Olmsted spread this misinformation. I understand that those in their true believer camp really are believers, and that a fact attack is not going to get them to change their minds. But I'm also done with pretending they don't exist. Such extremists may represent splinter interests, but they are loud and persistent in their need to poke holes in, rather than understand, the science behind the issues. They still have the ability to misdirect gullible or inexperienced readers. And as the California whooping cough outbreak may well indicate, they can cause real harm.

So I'm speaking out against autism & vaccine misinformation like that ceaselessly spread by Age of Autism. And I encourage you to speak out, as well. Because, as I wrote for BlogHer last week, my children, and your children, deserve the very best advocacy we can give them.


  1. Anonymous2:21 PM

    Imus also promoted her own stupidity on the Fox Health web page. AoA sends its stormtroopers to attack anyone who dares question their gospel. Ad hominem attacks abound.

  2. Oh, if only voices as intelligent as yours could be heard over the din of idiocy! Thank you so much for this post, which I'm tweeting. Why does no one comment on the fact that thimerosal was removed in routine childhood vaccines years ago and STILL the rate of autism continues to rise? SquidReaders, for more info, please see:

  3. Good article :) Here's a thing, too - I guess since both my twins have autism, I am less concerned as to the "how" or "why", but more concerned with the "now what"? I wish more of these "experts" would spend more time researching therapy and education for kids with autism.

  4. Elise, the emotional bait-laying, it is rampant.

    Claire, the thimerosal issue was addressed nicely in Emily Willingham's analysis of the Pediatrics article: http://daisymayfattypants.blogspot.com/2010/09/pediatrics-study-finds-no-link-between.html

    HRH The Queen: "Now what" activism is the reason we started The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. Check us out if you haven't already: www.thinkingautismguide.com.

  5. It really is rich for Blaxill and Olmstead to sound off about "blathering" talking heads. Remind me again what their claim to fame is? After all, who really has the greatest stake in the vaccines-cause-autism hypothesis? Not the scientists who speak up for vaccines, nor those who actually work on vaccines. Even if some earth-shattering evidence suddenly proved the hypothesis and overturned the current science, there would still be plenty of vaccine science to be done (and probably even more.) And I doubt even Big Pharma would suffer too horribly, given that vaccines are generally a revenue-stream blip for most.

    But for those who have made a cottage industry of vaccine-bashing, and the bio-med quackery that flows from it, I imagine it's pretty scary to have your entire business model threatened by the preponderance of facts.

    "Orthodox" and "mainstream scientists" are far from the slurs Blax-stead seems to believe they are; what they really mean by those epithets is "majority."

  6. Squillo: "It really is rich for Blaxill and Olmstead to sound off about "blathering" talking heads. Remind me again what their claim to fame is?"

    I've pointed this out in the past. Whenever there is a vaccine issue, to get the pro-vaccine side, they consult the same people time and time again. Barbara Loe Fischer, Jay Gordon, Blaxill, Olmstead, etc. Yet, on the pro-vax side? Call the local pediatrician...

    These people have serious notoriety solely due to the fact they are anti-vax. Even Jenny McCarthy has ridden her anti-vax stance to increase her celebrity status (you thought it was her acting skills?).

    Meanwhile, Paul Offitt indeed is a well-known vaccination advocate. Anyone else? Amanda Peet? She doesn't get half the press of Jenny McCarthy.

    You don't get famous for pushing the party line. It is the Mavericks who Go Against the Establishment that get the press.

  7. Dang, dang, dang

    "To get the ANTI-Vaccine side, they go to the same people..."

  8. Anonymous12:08 PM

    We need to stick together and fight the nonsense, particularly now that they've managed to bring back pertussis.

    I noticed your connection to the special ed PTA in Redwood City. Any chance y'all are going to Take Flight for Kids at Reid-Hillview Airport this weekend? I'm volunteering with one of the fun groups, but there will be a lot of service providers and nonprofits at the event.

    Aspie biologist

  9. Anonymous12:26 PM

    I think there needs to be more education on what the 1 in 100 autism figure really means. The anti-vaxers want people to think that 100% of autistic kids will be nonverbal and in diapers all their life, but (as was mentioned somewhere here) MOST of these 1 in 100 will catch up in development to some extent. They may grow up to be fairly eccentric with sensory aversions, intermittent social awkwardness, and odd habits, but that's a LOT different than needing 24/7 care.

    I wonder if it would help for more functional adults on the spectrum to "come out" so people could understand that autism isn't a death sentence. It isn't an easy life, but (as was pointed out at a recent conference) we know more now about how to make it less difficult.

    I'm sure it's preaching to the choir here to say that parents have to have hope for the future and accept their kids while helping them grow. It's tragic that so many parents who've been duped by the mercury militia are obsessed with "curing" their child's autism and talk about autism stealing their child's soul and all that nonsense. That can't be a good way to grow up.

    Thank you for spreading the truth!

    --Aspie Biologist

  10. Squillo, indeed. I am always glad to have you come enrich the discussion.

    Pablo & Aspie Biologist, thanks for coming by and contributing. I do agree that it would be excellent if more adults with autism or Asperger's proclaimed themselves -- and I am certainly glad to know so many role models who do.

    Aspie Biologist, ideally, I'd like more recognition of the spectrum, more awareness that it's impossible for any one voice to speak for the variety of autism experiences. It's galling when others perceive the antivax, mercury, & #FAY shriekers/whiners as representing me or my son. Or you.

    I hadn't heard about Flight for Kids -- do you have more info?

    Thanks, again.

  11. Hi Roger,

    Thanks for commenting.

    Have you been following our Thinking Person's Guide to Autism project? One of our goals, besides helping people make informed choices about autism, is to include as many different autism voices as possible -- adults with autism, autistics, parents, and professionals.




Respectful disagreement encouraged.