One of the great televised moments in vaccine-autism history (right up there with “the problem is the problem”) occurred on The Today Show a few years back when Matt Lauer said “there is controversy” over a link and Dr. Nancy shot back: “Not controversial subject, Matt.”
Matt: “Well, controversial for parents who still believe ...”
Dr. Nancy: “It is not controversial Matt. It's time for kids to get their vaccines.”
It’s less what Matt says, and more the look on his face and the sound of his rather emphatic setting down of interview notes, reflecting the fact “parents who still believe” include someone in his own circle who blames a child’s autism on the MMR.
Yes, it’s controversial. And it’s only gotten more so.
The 2008 Today show piece Matt and Dr. Nancy were discussing was a paean to the heroic long-suffering Paul Offit. But it also showed an interview with Bernadine Healy, and Snyderman claimed that Healy wanted to ask “a different question altogether” from whether vaccines cause autism --about whether a “one size fits all” vaccine schedule is dangerous, and a subset of kids may be vulnerable to various side effects. This of course is not a different question altogether, it is exactly the same question – as Healy’s interview with CBS’s Sharyl Attkisson showed.
Yes, there is indeed a controversy, one Dr. Nancy and Dr. Paul have tried unsuccessfully to suppress.
The “no debate” argument surfaced again this past week, as Brian Deer was given free rein at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to peddle his views as though they were carried down the mountain by Dr. Moses. As our own Anne Dachel reported:
“The University of WI-La Crosse made their position clear in the opening remarks of professor of immunology, Bernadette Taylor, before an audience of hundreds of UWL students. “There is no debate… This University did not invite a debate on that issue.”
“Case closed: the University would not allow for a free exchange of ideas so informed, intelligent students could make up their own minds.
“Brian Deer was then allowed to present his version of the most heated controversy in medicine today: Is our aggressively expanded vaccination schedule behind the exponential increase in autism? According to Deer and the UWL, the debate is over. Only a few desperate parents still believe in a link. The science has spoken.”
This idea that “the science” has spoken is profoundly unscientific, of course. Rather, it’s the gutless whimpering sound of a dying paradigm. Putting the kabbosh on disagreement is a sign of deep anxiety about the real facts. And, of course, it’s fundamentally undemocratic to attempt to stifle dissent by claiming it’s too dangerous – kids will die if you disagree! A mushroom cloud will explode over New York if you don’t agree Iraq has weapons of mass destruction! The world will be more dangerous if you don’t quit pushing this Watergate thing! (“One year of Watergate is enough,” as Nixon famously proclaimed.)
It is ever thus. People who can’t handle the truth repair to their prejudices and partial understanding and blame others for continuing to speak out.
It’s interesting to see the same dynamic playing out in the official response to the cases of tic disorders at two New York state high schools. We reported this week on a third case among softball pitchers at Corinth High School north of Albany, and a total of six so far at the school, along with another 20 or so at LeRoy Junior/Senior High School near Rochester. In both places, doctors themselves have become denialists, attributing the problems to “conversion disorder” rather than real physical illness.
In LeRoy, officials blamed the media for causing and prolonging the problem. So some of those media outlets actually took down videos showing the girls’ symptoms. When two more cases happened this fall, a neurologist blamed a visit by a representative of Erin Brokovich, who is searching for possible environmental causes.
Talk about crazy.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.