Vaccination-autism debate turns nasty
April 22, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Seth Mnookin courageously fought heroin addiction and re-launched himself as a well-regarded writer. His new book The Panic Virus raised several questions about the science behind claims that vaccinations contribute to autism, and that the consequences of doing so resulted in the reemergence of formerly eradicated diseases such as measles and whooping cough. In that light, he recently criticized a new PBS Series which, despite strong scientific evidence to the contrary, again suggests the vaccination-autism connection. This led to a classless attack on Mnookin's former struggles with addiction. His pained response.
posted by littlemanclan (80 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

 
I hope there will come a day when the default human response to that sort of attack is for people to ask themselves, "Why did they attack the messenger instead of refuting the message?"

Mind you, I don't look for it to happen in my lifetime, but it's one of my wishes for humanity.
posted by Mooski at 9:58 AM on April 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


The antivaxxers (like the birthers and the truthers) argue out of faith, not reason. And you cannot reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into.
posted by jenkinsEar at 9:58 AM on April 22, 2011 [34 favorites]


Well, yuck. At least I never had any respect for Jenny McCarthy to lose, but I didn't expect this from Robert MacNeil.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 9:59 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I knew Seth M. a little bit in his post-college phase. I was all like "this guy thinks he's all cool and talented and alternative and he's just a screw-up." Guess what? He has proven me wrong over and over again, beating his addiction and turning himself into a really good writer and a serious person. More power to him.
posted by escabeche at 9:59 AM on April 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


There was an idea that went around a while ago, that all life was infrastructure for ideas ("memes") to replicate themselves (rather than infrastructure for genes to self-perpetuate). (And frankly, I don't think there's a lot of difference between the two, insofar as genes are just a physical representation of information.)

But from the "ideas" perspective, perhaps the vaccination-autism idea is like toxoplasma gondii in rats/cats: not good for the people who believe the idea, but great for the longevity of the idea itself. I wonder if that's what The Panic Virus is about. Time to RTFB.
posted by spacewrench at 10:01 AM on April 22, 2011


I know I think character matters. And perhaps people like to hear that their feelings matter and their opinion counts. But a vaccination/autism question is science. Your feelings, your opinion, and the character of the messenger are utterly unimportant. Data matters. Evidence matters. Seth Mnookin's character? Reformed man who's risen above difficulties, or unworthy junkie, it matters not at all.
posted by tyllwin at 10:02 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


Also, it is frustrating to see Martha Herbert's perfectly reasonable and statistically important comments -- which I would paraphrase as "you can never completely rule out that there's some unmeasurably small fragment of the population which reacts badly to vaccines -- all you can say is that there's no evidence that such a fragment exists, and that in any event it's fantastically unlikely that your particular autistic child is a member of the putative fragment" turned in the activist's account into "I was right all along and Harvard says so." Pyucch.
posted by escabeche at 10:02 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I like the appeal to authority in the J.B. Handley article, listing MacNeil as an Officer of the Order of Canada, as if this somehow supports his credibility against Mnookin's. Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings are Officers of the Order of Canada.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:05 AM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Of course, the main point is their "faith" (instead of reason) has resulted in the reappearance of diseases that had formerly been banished from our population. That to me is the most inexcusable outcome of all this. And it's not easy to criticize these people either, because at heart, they're just parents trying to do the right thing for their children. But what of the child that gets sick or succumbs to a disease that reappeared because of baseless fear-mongering? It's heartbreaking.
posted by littlemanclan at 10:06 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Jenny Macarthy has appeared with Byron Katie who is one of the most vile new agey people to me and I just can't listen to a word she has to say in that light.

I have watched byron katie do "the work" with people from warzones mocking them for being afraid and telling them they are just making the fear happen because they want to be afraid. So therefore they should just hear the bombs and smile and say, "Oh a bomb! How delightful I don't mind if it hits me or not!"

I'm sorry, but no. Anyway the attack on this guys past history is horrific and points to nothing other than absolute lack of anything logical to use for argument.

If you believe vaccines are harmful continue to advocate for more research by parties who are more neutral. If there is truly a risk, the truth will out. At this stage raising red flags and convincing parents to be afraid of vaccines without any proof is a dangerous thing to do indeed. No matter what risk may or not be present with vaccines--- they certainly have correlated with the eradication of horrible diseases and it's pretty difficult to argue that dying of epidemics is better than autism even if it were a risk.
posted by xarnop at 10:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


We need to focus on teaching the ability to separate the message from the messenger. It is so easy to see someone who is spouting off something you find abhorrent to become abhorrent in your eyes. They become uglier, nastier and somehow less of a person. It's a dangerous slope and we should do better at teaching ourselves and our kids how to thoughtfully respond to opinions that we don't share without resorting to name calling and muckracking.
posted by Leezie at 10:33 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


This turns into a religious war pretty quickly, which I'll thankfully avoid. But if you want to read a cogent representation of why otherwise rational people distrust the current vaccination schedule, David Kirby's writings are a good place to start.
posted by emmet at 10:36 AM on April 22, 2011


As it becomes increasingly unavoidable that there is no science connecting autism to vaccines, the ones left arguing the case will increasingly be those who refuse reason or those who have something to lose by admitting there's nothing to support their viewpoint. Neither can be counted on to behave reasonably.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:38 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


It's also interesting to note that the attack on Mnookin's criticism of the PBS Series contains not a single sentence countering his specific points about what's wrong with McNeil's report. Not one. All it does is use Mnookin's own writing (!) about his heroin addiction to paint him as a vile drug addict. You'd never know this was something that happened to him 13 years ago. It's utterly repulsive and representative of the kook fringe that inhabits the vaccination-autism connection.
posted by littlemanclan at 10:39 AM on April 22, 2011


From yesterday: The Crash and Burn of an Autism Guru (NYT)
posted by littlemanclan at 10:42 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Scratch a hippy, find a fascist. Yuppie hippies are the worst and most toxic hippies of all.
posted by Artw at 10:44 AM on April 22, 2011 [14 favorites]


Anti-drug user hatred: The last acceptable bigotry?
posted by docgonzo at 10:44 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"You got Seth Mnookin all wrong, who could possibly be better qualified to advise parents on the safety of injecting stuff into their children’s bodies than a sell-professed former junkie?"

Yes, I'm pretty sure that Ms. McCarthy has never, ever, ever used illegal drugs.
posted by Ratio at 10:46 AM on April 22, 2011


"As it becomes increasingly unavoidable that there is no science connecting autism to vaccines.."

And even worse: that those who authored studies suggesting a vaccination-autism connection were shown to have falsified data, and other unethical behaviors, to promote their pre-ordained views, which made many of them, not surprisingly, media stars and celebrity experts.

It's about as unscientific as one can get.
posted by littlemanclan at 10:50 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have, up until now, been fairly sympathetic (or, at least more so than most around here) towards that anti-vaccination crowd because, despite me thinking them wrong, there's a lot of wrong out there and, for the most part, they are wrong from a good place -- a place of concern for their and others children. But Jesus Christ, this is just vile and I hadn't realized that so much of the anti-crowd is now about circling the wagons because they can't bear to be proven wrong.

Fucking disgusting.

Anti-drug user hatred: The last acceptable bigotry?

No, there's plenty of others still out there. Unfortunately for me, I tend to be able to check a lot of the boxes... ex-drug user, gay, fat (sometimes), mental illness...apparently I wasn't interested in coasting along on the benefits of my white dudeness.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:51 AM on April 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


Anti-vaccination activists are vile, despicable beings with only vile, despicable arguments to defend themselves. News at eleven.
posted by Skeptic at 10:56 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is there any admissible-in-court way to trace the transmission of a disease from person to person? I wonder how many parents would vaccinate if they could be prosecuted or sued to the Stone Age when Precious infects other children.
posted by cyndigo at 10:56 AM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


This turns into a religious war pretty quickly, which I'll thankfully avoid. But if you want to read a cogent representation of why otherwise rational people distrust the current vaccination schedule, David Kirby's writings are a good place to start.

I'm going to thankfully avoid it by throwing out the same tired old anti-vaccination crap and then claim the moral high ground if anyone responds! Hey-o!
posted by Justinian at 10:57 AM on April 22, 2011 [9 favorites]


Anti-drug user hatred: The last acceptable bigotry?

No, there's plenty of others still out there.


Yeah, like this for example.
posted by hippybear at 11:02 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Relevant: Paul Offit, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All (Basic, 2010).
posted by MarshallPoe at 11:05 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I got scratched once by a hippie. And man was it welcome, because oh did I itch.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:08 AM on April 22, 2011 [11 favorites]


And you cannot reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into.

I really don't think this is true. How many atheists were born as religion-followers? More than 0 for sure.
posted by DU at 11:10 AM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


Anyway, this is an interesting topic for MetaFilter, not because of the vaccine thing, which has been discussed to death here, but because it touches on something I see happen on the Blue all the time -- someone's past being brought up to discredit their present statements.

Routinely I see people completely dismissing the content of a link because the author happened to say or do something contentious a decade or more ago, and that seems to close the book on whether anything else that person ever does in their life could possibly have any legitimacy.

Even if that thing they did was completely human error and has been compensated or apologized for since. Even if the person was completely wrong at that point in time but since has discovered that they were in error and have worked to educate themselves so they avoid a similar error going forward.

So, I'll be interested to see how this discussion plays out here.
posted by hippybear at 11:11 AM on April 22, 2011 [6 favorites]


And now for everyone that opined in earlier mefi threads that only women writers/bloggers get lots of nasty comments thrown their way, here is a great counter example.
posted by k5.user at 11:12 AM on April 22, 2011


Agreed Hippybear. I knew this topic wasn't new around here, but I was *really* shocked at how Mnookin's former heroin addiction was brought into the picture by his opponents. It's so clearly irrelevant to the debate and, at least to me, signals their side is no longer interested in having a conversation about the legitimate criticisms of their stance.

I mean, it's not like their positions are harmless! Some diseases are roaring back as a result of parents not vaccinating their children. Call me crazy, but that's a public concern of the first order.

So, here's a question in the spirit of your comment: What should be the statute of limitations for dragging up someone's past? Even if it is completely without context or merit to the discussion?
posted by littlemanclan at 11:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


And now for everyone that opined in earlier mefi threads that only women writers/bloggers get lots of nasty comments thrown their way, here is a great counter example.

I would defy you to point to one single statement where somebody says this only happens to women. This is a lousy derail, and I am not sure why you thought this would be an excellent opportunity for it.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:18 AM on April 22, 2011 [15 favorites]


So, I'll be interested to see how this discussion plays out here.

I'm not sure there's any argument to be made in favor of the messenger having any bearing whatever on the message, except in cases where the message's origin is the messenger.

In every other case, you can simply check the factual basis of the message, unless you're either a) lazy or b) afraid of what you'll find. What would be interesting to me is what the ratio of a) to b) is.
posted by Mooski at 11:21 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


J.B. Handley:

During CNN’s lynching of Andy Wakefield, I was talking to one of Anderson Cooper’s producers, and she mentioned Seth Mnookin and his recent book The Panic Virus, and how it seemed to support the worldview that Andy was a bad guy and all of us parents are crazy and looking for someone or something to blame for our child’s autism. The conversation went something like this:

Me: What the hell does Seth Mnookin know? He’s a former garden-variety junkie turned writer with a book that simply repeats all of Paul Offit’s talking points?

Her: Seth has credibility with the New York media because he is really one of us, he’s an insider--so his words carry some weight.


Anyone else question the credibility of this claim?

I've emailed Cooper's producers to see if I can get a confirm or denial...
posted by littlemanclan at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2011


From Mnookin's site, a quote from one of the attacks:

You got Seth Mnookin all wrong, who could possibly be better qualified to advise parents on the safety of injecting stuff into their children’s bodies than a sell-professed former junkie?

I know the person who made this attack meant it as vicious sarcasm. (the poison hamburger if you will), but when I read it, I actually thought it was a good point (pun intended).

Somebody who is familiar with the process of injection (and has done it so many times that they aren't freaked out by breaking into the closed system that is the human body as if it is some sort of mystical hooha) really is somebody to whom I'm more prone to listen.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:27 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Because internet griefers has been a theme in ~4 posts this week. In the other 3, the griefer's target were women, and the debate revolved around sexism/misogyny from the griefers. In the MeTa about kiki, someone asked if this happens to men (though the context was male bloggers, since kiki was a blogger). So, here's an example where griefers were running over a man.

So I point it out to note that griefers don't care about their target, and those saying any one person/group/whatever has it "worse" is a race to the bottom/war of attrition.
posted by k5.user at 11:29 AM on April 22, 2011


So, here's a question in the spirit of your comment: What should be the statute of limitations for dragging up someone's past? Even if it is completely without context or merit to the discussion?

I'd say that if it has no merit on the discussion, then whatever is being discussed should be the topic at hand and there's no reason to pull in someone's past whatsoever.

Pretty much the ONLY time I could see bringing someone's past into a discussion would be if that past has direct bearing on the topic at hand. But that isn't what happens. It's like when people dismiss John Edwards' campaigning on behalf of the poor because he had an affair. WTF does that have to do with it?

Same thing here. This guy had a heroin problem which he has kicked. Does that mean that every thought that comes out of his head is tainted, and forevermore he can write nothing without the needle controlling his thoughts? Not at all. He is clear-headed and has made cogent arguments, and those arguments should be respected on their own merit.
posted by hippybear at 11:30 AM on April 22, 2011 [5 favorites]


Because internet griefers has been a theme in ~4 posts this week. In the other 3, the griefer's target were women, and the debate revolved around sexism/misogyny from the griefers.

Nobody said it only happens to woman. They do seem to be specially targeted, though, and the attacks on them are frequently explicitly gendered.
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:32 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm with you, Hippybear.
posted by littlemanclan at 11:36 AM on April 22, 2011


The autism-vaccine link is now religion. No amount of scientific evidence will get them to reject their holy creed and will be seen as an attempt to harm their belief system. It is sad.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:38 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


They wouldn't be griefer's if they couldn't push buttons ;) How do they know when whatever button they are hammering works ? Getting a response/rise from the person being harassed..
posted by k5.user at 11:39 AM on April 22, 2011


"His new book...raised several questions about the science behind claims..."

This is an extremely generous consctruction. There is no science behind the claims.
posted by londonmark at 11:42 AM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Argh, construction.
posted by londonmark at 11:43 AM on April 22, 2011


The problem is their "religion" is already having a dire impact on public health. People have died because of the reemergence of formerly eradicated diseases. This is the perfect example of what happens when feeling, faith and emotion override scientific reality.

In other words, it's no longer simply abstract--like wondering what the end consequences are of what the birthers believe, for example--but concrete proof of its destructive capabilities.
posted by littlemanclan at 11:45 AM on April 22, 2011


David Kirby's writings are a good place to start.

He perfectly incapsulates the fuzzy thinking that leads to the strong belief system, fuzzy thinking of a type that the scientific method is specifically designed to avoid:
By six months of age, most U.S. children have received about 18 inoculations containing 24 vaccines against nine diseases. Over the next two years or so, they will receive another nine shots containing 14 vaccines against 12 diseases.

So whether a child regresses at six months, or 18 months, the tragedy happens during a period of intensive vaccination. In many cases, parents report that the child had an abnormal reaction after being vaccinated (seizures, spiking-fevers, diarrhea, lethargy, high-pitched screaming and/or other symptoms).
Not a shred of proof there, but a powerful confirmation bias and a heavy does of post-hoc-ergo-propter-hoc. He doesn't make the case for doubt, but he sure makes the case for there being no solid evidence for an association.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


You got me fair and square on that one, londonmark. I wrote that up quickly to get it posted and it is far too generous.

I agree: there is NO science behind the claim of a link between public vaccinations and autism.
posted by littlemanclan at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2011


Having just clicked on the links, this is the first line in the "classless attack" one:

"During CNN’s lynching of Andy Wakefield,"

Congratulations, writer, you're already an asshole and an idiot.
posted by Errant at 11:49 AM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, and my deepest sympathy to the parents of autistic kids, as much to those who believe it was caused by vaccinations as any of the others. However, urging other parents to not vaccinate not only does nothing for the already autistic kids themselves, but it harms them and everyone else's kids, too.

The anti-vaxxers don't seem to want to educate themselves on the scientifically demonstrated harms of not vaccinating, but they are armed with every stinking little pseudoscientific argument for the vax-aut relationship. This alone makes me want to shake them from their trance.
posted by Mental Wimp at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


littlemanclan: "This is the perfect example of what happens when feeling, faith and emotion override scientific reality. "

And one we need to learn from quickly, because I fear we're about to be overwhelmed by claims that various kinds of alternative medicine deserve as much credibility as scientific medicine.

And thanks for the linked NYT article - worth it for the Peter Medawar quote alone.
posted by sneebler at 11:58 AM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


My first kid is on the way. I've already made it clear to anyone in my life who exhibits paranoia about vaccinations that my child is not going to get fucking polio. Sorry, it's just a thing with me, call me eccentric.

But I have been wondering lately: Should I use "vaccinations required" as a filter when I select a school for my kid to go to?

I think the answer is yes, and secretly I think half of my reasoning has nothing to do with the health of my child, and everything to do with wanting to avoid Jenny McCarthy-ite parents.
posted by illovich at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2011 [19 favorites]


And you cannot reason a man out of a position he didn't reason himself into.

I really don't think this is true. How many atheists were born as religion-followers? More than 0 for sure.


I think the point behind that concept is that unless you have buy-in from someone, it doesn't matter how many real verified true facts you throw at him, he won't participate in your worldview.

In fact, here's a really excellent article published this week on why this happens. The Science Of Why We Don't Believe Science (with bonus coverage of vaccine-autism linking and mention of Mnookin!)
posted by hippybear at 12:03 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


When I see the criticism Mnookin makes of the unbalanced reporting it seems out of character for MacNeal. As I caught up on the series I found this report, where MacNeal goes through all the vaccine myths with a neuroscientist, essentially debunking his own daughter.

Something odd happened at PBS with the production of this series. What's the thought process that leads with the disproven vaccine angle and puts the scientific facts in episode 4? Are they trying to make better TV by intentionally airing a controversy? Do they think that "whacky vaccine Moms" vs "Scientists that don't have a cure" is some sort of polarization that will lead to more viewers? Would they intentionally plan to stir up Mnookin-like outrage just to boost their ratings?

I don't understand the TV pressures that drive to this sort of contrarian, argumentative, format. Sure, we've always had teasers like "After the break we have tomorrow's weather" to get folks to watch commercials. But this is PBS. If you're going to do a 6-hour documentary, wouldn't it be possible to have a thoughtful, adult outlook throughout? While I am disappointed in MacNeal, part of me wonders if this was the editing he expected. Was this really bad reporting, or just an editor looking to jazz things up?
posted by RSaunders at 12:04 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


I would have imagined after writing a pro-Red Sox blog for a couple of years Mnookin would be used to knee-jerk, knuckle draggers from the wrong side of the argument. That said, the first link is, well, depressing. And the echo chamber of comments is even worse. It frightens the hell out of me there's someone in those comments claiming to be an MD.
posted by yerfatma at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2011


I love the part where Mnookin's character matters when he's merely giving voice to the hundreds of authors in valid scientific journals whereas the character of Wakefield -- thoroughly embroiled in multiangular conflicts of interest with a small corpus of very weak, discredited and non-replicable 'research' -- is beyond reproach.

Everyone likes a little dogma but most people are overdosing.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 12:33 PM on April 22, 2011


Well, RSaunders, I cringed when she made the claim of a link in the first episode, though he did say in the voiceover right after that there is no scientific evidence of a link. I was glad to later see the episode you cite that clarified things.

They probably started with the first one as the personal introduction to autism through the family of an autistic child. It is how most people become aware of how much of an impact autism can have. It opens up the personal, education, and medical dimensions that one encounters to be highlighted in the later episodes.

I don't think I've ever seen NewsHour do hype.
posted by zangpo at 12:42 PM on April 22, 2011


I really don't think this is true. How many atheists were born as religion-followers? More than 0 for sure.

The number is exactly zero, because you aren't born with religion. It's learned, and because it has been learned it can be unlearned.

I myself am a recovering Christian, so I can vouch it is possible. But the tenents of popular Christianity (that weird kind of end-timey stuff floating around, not the rather more thoughtful, much less strident types) are kind of like a mind trap. The path to salvation, they say, is belief. If you don't believe you cannot be saved. If you believe (the italics are important) you aren't going to be convinced by contrary evidence. They're saying if you don't follow what they say without question (if you question you must not believe) you are damned to roast in a literal fiery pit for eternity.
posted by JHarris at 12:46 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


It frightens the hell out of me there's someone in those comments claiming to be an MD.

MDs diagnose and treat illnesses. Systematically determining who develops disease and why is not their job.
posted by docgonzo at 12:55 PM on April 22, 2011


The anti-vaccine movement as a religion with Andrew Wakefield as its prophet?
posted by homunculus at 1:19 PM on April 22, 2011


The behavior of some of these parents of autistic children makes me suspect there is a genetic aspect. I'm not saying the parents are autistic themselves, but the character trait of raging idiocy may be an indicator that your children are at risk of having worse problems.
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:28 PM on April 22, 2011


MDs diagnose and treat illnesses. Systematically determining who develops disease and why is not their job.

John Snow would like a word with you (but I see your point).
posted by TedW at 1:31 PM on April 22, 2011


MDs diagnose and treat illnesses. Systematically determining who develops disease and why is not their job.

Would you want this person diagnosing you?
'Those chasing the autism gene, cannot explain the exponential increase in the cases of regressive autism. There is not a single genetic disorder the prevalence of which could possibly jump from 1 in 10.000 up until 1981 to 1 in 100 in 2011. Some claim that we are better at diagnosing it. Nonsense as autism thus far is diagnosed based on young children's symptoms and behaviors. There is no "test" or approved "brain scan" or "blood test" to diagnose regressive autism.'
posted by yerfatma at 1:44 PM on April 22, 2011


oneswellfoop, I realize you were probably speaking a bit tongue in cheek, but blaming parents (and particularly mothers) for the autism of their children has a long and ugly history. Let's not do it here.
posted by Daily Alice at 1:52 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


To clarify, I did not mean to efface any clinician's defense of Wakefield et. al. My point was simply that while knowledge of disease distribution and causality is doubtlessly helpful in clinical practice, the vas majority of MDs have none or very rudimentary training in epidemiology. As an epidemiologist(-in-training), it's a bete-noire that some presume MDs automatically must have something valuable to say about matters which are largely outside their expertise.
posted by docgonzo at 1:53 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Some claim that we are better at diagnosing it. Nonsense as autism thus far is diagnosed based on young children's symptoms and behaviors. There is no "test" or approved "brain scan" or "blood test" to diagnose regressive autism.'

Given there's no gold standard test for autism, sensitivity to specific qualitative traits becomes all the more important. Thus this MD has just lent weight to the argument that the rise in the incidence of autism diagnoses is the result of heightened awareness and not external etiology.
posted by docgonzo at 1:56 PM on April 22, 2011


>>[Alleged Anderson Cooper producer}: Seth has credibility with the New York media because he is really one of us, he’s an insider--so his words carry some weight.
>Anyone else question the credibility of this claim?

Not really. Her wording may have been twisted to make to make a point, but all she's really saying is that Mnookin has credibility because he's an experienced journalist with a good record of integrity. And that makes perfect sense.
posted by msalt at 2:11 PM on April 22, 2011


it's not easy to criticize these people either

Maybe not for you.
posted by adamdschneider at 2:43 PM on April 22, 2011


Disclosure: mother of an son with a very mild autistic spectrum disorder here. I have a lot of contempt for the anti-vaxx crowd and the way they try to shout down anyone who disagrees with them.

Vaccinations had nothing at all to do with my son's diagnosis. Hell, 6 or so weeks before I noticed the most dramatic sign that something was wrong, I asked my doctor to delay a scheduled vaccine because it had been such a shitty cold & flu season that I didn't want him to feel sick after having been sick so many times in the previous months. Then, the whole family got some sort of monster flu - the type where every nerve ending seems to be vibrating with pain and you pray for death. It was after we all recovered from it that I noticed that his momentum of his language acquisition seemed to taper off.

However, there were subtle "soft signs" even before that - he didn't always respond to his name being called, he was obsessed with lining up his toys in long rows and would get angry if one toy was nudged out of place in the slightest, etc.,.

Could the viral infection have been the tipping point for my son's autism? Maybe - I have noticed the "fever effect" mentioned in that atrocious "Age of Autism" article. However, I've also noticed autistic/aspergers characteristics in many of my family members, including (notably) older relatives who were born and were not vaccinated until they were well into adulthood. I myself was diagnosed at 11 with Sensory Processing Disorder, which is often seen in children with autistic spectrum disorders. More importantly, I was paying attention in my college statistics course - correlation does not equal causation.

When looking for information on the causes of autism I'll take these guys over the Jenny McCarthy-ites any day. The research being done at UC Davis seems to suggest that "autism" is a word that's being used to describe many different disorders; teasing out the specifics of each different subtype is a process that is going to take a long time. In the meantime, I will happily take a living, but slightly quirky child over a child killed or maimed by a preventable disease any day.
posted by echolalia67 at 3:02 PM on April 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I know the reviled autism link is the main blame given to the lack of vaccinations today. But I think it misses the reasoning that people are hesitant towards vaccines.

I got my vaccines as a child and I appreciate and support vaccines in general for all the good they have done. Don't attack me, because I already know! Vaccines are good, m'kay? With that said:

Vaccines are an industry. I don't like the pharmaceutical industry, they have demonstrated quite clearly that they put profit above the well-being of people and anything they say should be thoroughly researched.

The vaccine schedule has ballooned since I got my shots and arguably some of the added vaccines are protecting against things that are not threats. But if I want to modify the schedule, I am on my own to find and pay for individual vaccines.

Last, and most importantly, at least for parents, these vaccines are not risk free. There are clear and documented side effects and some of them are quite severe. My nephew went into convulsions on the floor within hours of getting his vaccinations and has ongoing problems as a result. I doubt my sister-in-law is going to be vaccinating her kids anymore.-I don't blame her.

But the internet hate machine is not creating a useful dialogue and I just thought an alternate perspective would be useful.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 3:09 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't understand that objection, psycho. Do you object to insulin for diabetics because it comes from the pharmaceutical industry? Cancer drugs for cancer patients?
posted by Justinian at 3:15 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Is there any admissible-in-court way to trace the transmission of a disease from person to person? I wonder how many parents would vaccinate if they could be prosecuted or sued to the Stone Age when Precious infects other children."

I don't know about admissibility in court, but anyone with a way to safely culture the pathogen and a PCR machine could tell you that two people have the same organism. Access to medical records would confirm the direction of transmission.
posted by Blasdelb at 3:25 PM on April 22, 2011


I've certainly heard repeatedly for years now through various channels that vaccines aren't really popular with Big Pharma because they're considered money-losing endeavors.

My Google-fu is failing me at the moment, but I know I haven't dreamt that repeatedly...

I do agree that there's a bit too much profit-motive attached to a lot of medicine (not that I have a good solution for that which isn't driven by altruism)... But I'm not sure that they're making crappy, dangerous vaccines in order to save money on them. Overall, they'd rather just not develop the vaccine in the first place.
posted by hippybear at 3:25 PM on April 22, 2011


Just another sad example of displaced frustration and anger. If it were really no one's fault that child X has autism (of one kind or another) then there'd be no one to shout at, no one to sue.
posted by Slackermagee at 4:18 PM on April 22, 2011


I'm a vaccine-injured person, but despite that, I'm not anti-vaccine. I got my first flu shot in December 2003, had a bad reaction, and over the next six months, my health started to fall apart. By May 2004, I was in full-blown myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome, which has left me bedridden since 2007. Typing this lying down right now, as always, in fact.

The illness I have is increasingly being linked with the relatively new human retrovirus XMRV. Nobody knows if I had it before the flu shot and the shot just kicked it into high gear, or if the shot made a chink in my armor that the retrovirus was able to worm its way into.

There's been some research trying to link autism with XMRV. The small amount that's been done thus far has uncovered higher percentages of autistic children and their family members XMRV positive than in the population in general (controls have run from about 4% to about 7% positive). Everybody's wondering if a vaccine could kick the pathogen into high gear in a kid, making it look like the vaccine was the thing at fault, when there were other contributing factors.

There are other people who fell ill with ME/CFS after vaccines who are militantly anti-vaccine across the board. This pains me. People with my illness have already been disbelieved for many, many years - we need to be more scientifically rigorous as a group, not less.

And even though I think the flu shot is what set me on the path to where I've ended up, in a world with vaccines, there are just going to be people like me. I'd rather not be sick, but if I'm the collateral damage for society at large to benefit, that's just the way life is.

And I'm not here to argue with anyone...lord knows I don't have the energy. Have to save it for my bath tonight...
posted by jocelmeow at 4:54 PM on April 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


Nobody knows if I had it before the flu shot and the shot just kicked it into high gear, or if the shot made a chink in my armor that the retrovirus was able to worm its way into

or if the shot had nothing to do with your chronic fatigue, except for taking place at roughly the same time. That's the tough thing. Nobody knows.
posted by escabeche at 5:00 PM on April 22, 2011


yeah, it's very difficult to filter out the post hoc ergo propter hoc effects when dealing with things like this.
posted by Justinian at 6:19 PM on April 22, 2011


"Could the viral infection have been the tipping point for my son's autism? Maybe - I have noticed the "fever effect" mentioned in that atrocious "Age of Autism" article. However, I've also noticed autistic/aspergers characteristics in many of my family members, including (notably) older relatives who were born and were not vaccinated until they were well into adulthood. I myself was diagnosed at 11 with Sensory Processing Disorder, which is often seen in children with autistic spectrum disorders. More importantly, I was paying attention in my college statistics course - correlation does not equal causation. "

One of the ironies of all this is that Asperger's syndrome does seem to render people less vulnerable to the emotional manipulation the quacks are using to exploit and recruit parents of autistic kids.
posted by ocschwar at 6:23 PM on April 22, 2011


Seth is my cousin. I don't think I need to describe him here at all because his many accomplishments and lucid writings reveal enough about his character, intelligence and life.

But those who would use his past against him are handicapped by certain beliefs which require a basis for defense in argument that is not provided by demonstrable reality.
posted by knoyers at 6:39 PM on April 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


He should have just said he has tiger blood running through him and Adonis DNA.
posted by delmoi at 12:35 AM on April 23, 2011


Routinely I see people completely dismissing the content of a link because the author happened to say or do something contentious a decade or more ago, and that seems to close the book on whether anything else that person ever does in their life could possibly have any legitimacy.
There's a difference between your private life and your prior public statements when you are evaluating what someone says. After all, if their prior public statements were wrong then that's evidence their current ones are also wrong.
posted by delmoi at 12:50 AM on April 23, 2011


After all, if their prior public statements were wrong then that's evidence their current ones are also wrong.

Really? All the time, always? Even if it's on an entirely different topic, or if the previous error was many years ago and they've already admitted they were wrong? A single public error in the past makes someone forever unworthy of trust ever again?
posted by hippybear at 7:30 AM on April 23, 2011


It's true, nobody knows if the flu shot is what knocked me into this illness. I do know that the intense exhaustion and dizziness/vertigo I felt immediately after and in the weeks following the flu shot is exactly like what my daily life included after I fell ill with ME/CFS.

Additionally, my ME/CFS specialist, who has been treating the illness for 25 years, since an epidemic of it emerged around him and his practice partner in Incline Village, NV in the mid-80s, tells me he's certain the flu shot is what started it for me. He can't know for certain either, but he's one of the half-dozen most eminent ME/CFS experts in the world, so I trust his judgment on that.

And I don't mean this to be quarrelsome, but "chronic fatigue syndrome" is the illness. "Chronic fatigue" is a symptom - and a symptom of a great many illnesses at that.
posted by jocelmeow at 7:44 AM on April 23, 2011


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