Read Part 1 HERE.
By Dan Olmsted
A few weeks ago in the midst of measles mania – say, whatever happened to that? -- I was on a Canadian TV show with a crusty but kind of likeable host who wanted to hear how people like me defend the “debunked” claim that vaccines cause autism.
He began: “I’m sure you’re taking a lot of criticism these days but you boldly stay the course?”
Me: “Vaccines are very strongly implicated in the rise of autism since the 1980s, yes.”
Now that is a pretty carefully calibrated statement, based on my own reporting and ten years of research and two books with my colleague Mark Blaxill, and I’m more than happy to stand by it, amplify it, show evidence for it and, in the language of science, provide citations.
The host immediately started talking about how “there is correlation but there is not causation.”
Fine, that’s a good debate to have! There is plenty of evidence that does in fact point to causation. But when I said that, he interrupted by saying that “no scientific study that demonstrates vaccines cause autism” – except the “debunked” Wakefield early report from 1998. So I mentioned William Thompson at the CDC and said Thompson acknowledged a study he was part of hid a link between vaccines and autism.
So, to my mind there’s another concrete piece of evidence. We are having a real debate!
Well, not exactly.
My host: “Well I think people can probably look up more detail on that than you and I can get into and may find that he’s being misquoted in that regard.
“And that’s the problem that I have. It’s conspiracy theory stuff and it’s easy to throw out names and things in a six-minute interview but we’re panicking people into not doing the very thing that has eradicated diseases."
How is directly and accurately citing a sitting CDC senior scientist “conspiracy theory stuff”? Boy, was I ever glad I had in my hand a few loose papers that included the actual statement from William Thompson!
Me: “William Thompson being a case in point, he says, ‘I regret that my co-authors and I omitted statistically significant information. The omitted data suggested African-American males who received the MMR vaccine before the age of 36 months were at increased risk for autism.’ He said it, I don’t know if you [speaking to my host] want to believe it, but I’m quoting from his statement through his lawyer.”
My host: “Well I’m encouraging people to read further into it.”
“I am too,” I said.
I explained how the root of the problem was not some evil worldwide plot but the fact that Congress gave liability protection to drug makers and doctors in 1986. The result: Big business and big government got in bed and cut the consumer out of the equation and we’ve been paying the price.
“It’s really a public policy debate as much as a public health debate,” I said. Again: It’s a debate that reasonable people can have based on a careful review of the evidence.
But my host came back around – again -- to the conspiracy idea – that if we have a problem with the vaccine schedule as I claimed, it could only be because doctors and public health officials and drug manufacturers concocted a massive conspiracy that defies belief. “What would be the value to any of those people to try and sell the idea that vaccines are safe when they are not?” he asked.
I responded: “I can’t speak for them.”
My host: “No, but I mean if you’re accusing people of this vast conspiracy you have to believe there’s some agenda behind it.”
Me: “I’m not using the word conspiracy, I’m just saying what the outcome is. I think it was unintended. But at this point I think there may be an unwillingness on the part of people who have sort of bet the farm, bet the business, bet their professional reputations on there being no link, they may not be the best people to get an objective answer here, that’s my feeling.” William Thompson sort of points to that, I’d say.
Perhaps having exhausted that avenue, my host changed the subject. “Do you have children?” he asked.
“No.” Pause. “I have a dog.” The crusty guy chuckled, which may be why I kind of liked him.
All this is preamble to what I now wish to briefly note. A regular and astute commenter on AOA, Twyla, forwarded me a note she got last week from The Daily Kos, the progressive site with quite a large readership. I guess her intended comment triggered some algorithm or alert intern. She got this in red type:
A message has been issued from site admin at Tue Feb 03 2015 10:25:09 GMT-0800 (PST):
The vaccine-autism link has been debunked by many careful studies, and here at Daily Kos we consider it conspiracy theory.
CT postings are not permitted here. Postings that advocate this theory can get you banned at Daily Kos.
This un-American suppression of speech is always harmful, and especially ironic given that progressives (I count myself as one) champion all kinds of crazy talk in the Academy and elsewhere but can’t bear to hear anything that contradicts their frankly lazy and uninformed view on the most pressing domestic issue of our time. And it’s doubly ironic because back in 2010, after I wrote about “How Progressives Don’t Get Autism,” and laid out arguments similar to those here, a Daily Kos blogger wrote a reasoned response.
"Progressives ought to be able to make this distinction, to tease out the fundamental public good [of a reasonable vaccine policy] from an inadvertent and ongoing disaster and the long failure to confront and fix it. If for no other reason, they should do this because when public action fails due to mismanagement, it plays into the idea that the public sector can’t run anything as well as private business, and the progressive movement inadvertently validates the conservative critique. Instead, public health officials are now trying ever harder to stifle the debate, preserve the status quo and their own careers and credibility; in doing so, they betray not only the children they are charged with protecting, but the progressive values that led to mass vaccination in the first place."
The Daily Kos blogger, “Critical Dune,” wrote:
"Dan Olmsted, Editor of the blog "Age of Autism" and former wire service reporter, offers up an interesting (and pretty thoughtful) analysis, pointing out what he thinks is a blind spot for many on the left: the issue of questioning current vaccine policy, especially as it relates to possible links with autism." (See here.)
Dune added: "Wherever you stand on this issue, or if you firmly think it's a non-issue, Olmsted points out some troubling behavior in the public health complex that should concern progressives." Dune continued:
"As a progressive, I strongly believe in public health initiatives all over the world to aggressively fight disease but think that a robust system of checks and balances is not what it ought to be in the United States. It worries me greatly that for some definable, and perhaps not so small, subset of kids with immune system vulnerabilites (like Hannah Poling and others), it's plausible that some components or timing of the recommended immunization schedule may be doing more harm than good."
Come on, Dune, that’s conspiracy theory stuff! You are hereby banned.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.