Here's a not-so-cheerful scenario to start your day: The plaintiff families lose in Vaccine Court. Andy Wakefield gets disbarred, or whatever those nutty British call it when they pull your medical license. And Gardiner Harris wins the Pulitzer Prize for his pharmaceutical reporting.
No, this is not a fever dream or an attempt to pull us down further into the slough of despond. All three of those things might actually happen soon.
The vaccine court cases are of course central to the hope of thousands of families for justice, and compensation, for their vaccine-injured children. As the Oscar forecasters often put it, though, there are two questions. Who SHOULD win? And who WILL win? Sometimes they are the same. But sometimes justice just does not prevail in the short run. While we keep our fingers crossed, we should also keep our bets hedged. It will be a sad, sad day if the cases go against the families -- or, just as likely -- land in some murky in-between that allows the CDC to twist the English language into knots that tie up progress for another few years. (See Poling, Hannah.)
Andy Wakefield? Who knows. I'm not too optimistic. Smear someone steadily enough and The Big Lie prevails. He was on the take. He made stuff up (see elsewhere on this page). No one could duplicate the results. He must be destroyed (that's the only true statement in this litany).
It matters, of course, but it has gone on so long and become so transparently political that it almost doesn't matter, either. We gave Andy our first Galileo Award late last year. Who remembers who "won" that argument with Galileo? I guess the Catholic Church, but who won in the long run?
And Gardiner Harris? That was not just thrown in for effect. He's done good work on prescription medicine and in particular conflicts of interest and pschiatric medications. So prepare to hear The Times honking about its fearless coverage.
Ah yes, but people can get some things right and some things badly wrong, and a "Pulitzer-Prize winning Harris" will be just as wrong about vaccines and autism as is the currently Pulitzer-less Harris. (Check out the story of the Times' Walter Duranty, who won a Pulitzer for The Times in 1932 for writing about Stalin's economic miracle and how there was no famine in the Ukraine. He's now widely regarded as an utter embarrassment to the paper, and The Pulitzers, and journalism. Times change.) (HERE)
So, as they say, hope for the best but prepare for the worst. I'm not putting this bleak scenario forward because I think it will happen, although I'm a bit concerned to see Tom Insel -- who once told me to my face that vaccines might well be behind the autism epidemic -- swaggering in exactly the opposite direction these days. What does he know? And the longer we wait for the verdicts, the more chance there is not just for delay but for political calculations to be worked out.
No, I just want to say that as lousy as things might be in the short or medium term, and as unfortunate as that may be for real people with real children who are really suffering, the truth is slowly emerging, and no individual event, no series of seeming setbacks, can change that one bit. We'll be here to report on and critique it all and not let the bastards get us down.
By the way, I hope this is the most misguided idea for a column I've ever had.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism