By Katie Wright
Recently I happened upon an advertisement for Paul Offit’s “Autism’s False Prophets.” Offit is a divisive extremist. Despite having no background in autism or clinical experience with autistic children, Offit feels qualified to publicly relate his “expertise” on autism’s trajectory and causation factors. Offit’s bizarre proclamations include the theory that babies can safely receive 100,000 vaccines in one day. No problem! It is a convenient belief when one holds a number of vaccine patents. I could go on and on but we all know Offit’s story.
So imagine my surprise when I read a glowing endorsement from Dr. Daniel Geschwind, well know genetics researcher who serves on the NIMH Scientific Advisory Panel, is a member of the six-person Autism Speaks scientific review panel and won the AS’ Scientific Service Award in 2008. Dr. Geschwind describes Paul Offit as a “brave and articulate champion of the truth” in Offit’s book advertisements. If Offit is the “champion of truth” does that mean that children who experienced severe adverse vaccine reactions and subsequent regressions are fakers or hypochondriacs? Do their parents have Munchansens by proxy?
Does Dr. Offit/ “champion of truth” have a child with autism, of course not. Does the “champion of truth” study children who have regressive autism, no way. Is “the champion of truth” taken seriously by 90% of autism researchers, another resounding no. Does the “champion of truth” seek to negate the experience and concerns of hundreds of thousands of parents of children- pretty much.
The publisher’s quote was lifted from Dr. Geschwind’s review of “False Prophets” in “Nature Medicine” magazine. Geschwind’s review feeds into Offit’s classic talking points : how Dr. Offit has manly and heroically fought the many forces of evil conspiring against him. Geschwind writes that Dr. Offit has endured death threats (a staple of every Offit interview) from an army of crazed and demented Moms and Dads. All Offit interviews must refer to the hate mail he receives, the threats, the angry phone calls- oh did I mention the threats and the hate mail? How can just one man be asked to sacrifice so much?
Apparently it is Dr. Offit who is the true victim here, not children with autism.
Geschwind expounds on Offit’s bizarre theory that both the media and probably a million ASD parents have been brainwashed by and take their marching order from celebrities. I am still waiting for my celebrity brain washing! George Clooney where are you? My favorite Geschwind quote is: “It (the book) also chronicles, in compelling fashion, the advocacy groups, the public relations efforts (what? You mean bankrupt Moms at home? Their “public relations” efforts?), and legal efforts (the 1% of ASD parents who file in vaccine court?), that have often partnered, certainly in some cases, innocents with rogue scientist in this endeavor to link autism to vaccines.” Wow and they call us conspiracy theorists?
“Rogue scientists” sounds seriously scary, as if describing Iranian physicists covertly working on a nuclear bomb. Is Dr. Geschwind referring to “rouge” scientists like the first doctors who treated ASD kids with GI disease after most doctors refused? This used to happen all the time until those horrid “rogues” put a stop to it. Or “rogues” like Dr. Pessah and Dr. Jill James (very shrewd, a female rogue!) who dare to research the effect heavy metals like Hg has on the brain? Or rogues like Dr. Mark Noble, a geneticist (we see through this clever cover!) who is researching adjuvants? Dr. Bernadette Healey, former director of the NIH, may be the biggest rogue scientist of them all! Healey has publicly advocated for independent vaccine schedule research. Are these “rouge” scientists part of what Geschwind refers to as the “sordid scientific frauds that have been perpetrated in the attempt to keep this controversy alive.” I say yes and damn them all! We are on to you “rogues” and your sordid scientific frauds!
Naturally, Dr. Geschwind is perfectly entitled to be Dr. Offit’s biggest fan. Is this insulting and or offensive to hundreds of thousands of autism families- sure. Is it grossly disappointing and disturbing that one of the most powerful scientific decision makers within the AS grant making body proudly professes such frightening, archaic and biased beliefs?
Naturally we are all entitled to believe whatever we want. However, serving on a family funded scientific review board is not a constitutional right, it is a privilege. Needless to say, I like Dr. Geschwind’s style! Let’s all be honest and forthcoming about our points of view, it is such a timesaver. I will say that I believe Dr. Offit is completely wrong, that is my open and honest point of view, fair is fair! The public, who by and large, are funding autism research deserve to know more about the entrenched perspectives of scientists spending our money. Maybe this will help us all understand the stymied progress afflicting autism research over the past 20 years.
Katie Wright is Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.