Complete this sentence: “The importance of ending the autism epidemic pales in comparison to …”
I can think of a couple of responses – The importance of ending the autism epidemic pales in comparison to total global annihilation from an act of God -- being hit by a meteor – or man -- through thermonuclear war. I mean, who really cares if we’re totally wiped out?
After that, I can’t think of too much that pales in comparison to ending a disabling epidemic now affecting 1 in 30 boys, or whatever the exact recent calculation is. Not to mention the other disorders and disabilities linked to this environmental nightmare.
And now to my point: The importance of ending the autism epidemic would not pale in comparison to the horror of electing Donald Trump as president. Would it?
I feel pretty free to say this because, as is well known by anyone who bothers to look, I’m a progressive by background and have sought a progressive solution to the environmental roots of the autism epidemic.
But since most progressives aren’t interested in that, why are we still interested in most progressives? Specifically, why are people like us backing people like Bernie Sanders, who doesn't have a ghost of a chance of becoming president anyway?
An AOA commentator wrote this week:
In case you did not see this, here is Bernie Sanders on autism (Rachel Maddow show, 9/17/15):
"I think the evidence is overwhelming that vaccines do not cause autism. And it really is a little bit weird for Trump - who, I presume, has no medical background - to be raising this issue. And obviously it is a concern. When somebody like that says it, you're gonna find thousands of people now who are gonna hesitate to give their kids the shots, and bad things may happen."
Given his statements, Bernie Sanders is not educable on this subject.
paulI will be voting for Trump.
For backers of Sanders and other “non-Trump candidates” (as Mitt Romney woodenly put it this week – I miss him!), I invite them to complete one more sentence: “I’m voting for X Y, a candidate whose position is that vaccines do not cause autism and that the science is settled, because I nonetheless think we can win this battle to end the autism epidemic in the following way: …”
While Rand Paul was in the race, I think his governing philosophy and his willingness to listen to the parents of vaccine-injured kids was a reasonable road to take. Perhaps even a better one, for those who found Trump simply too odious.
But now? Is odiosity a reason to perpetuate the autism epidemic? Not to recite my resume, but I’ve covered politics in Washington for three decades. I was an editor at USA Today and the Washington editor of UPI. This place doesn’t care about you, my friends. They care about power and money (which are by now one and the same). As my venerable former colleague Mark Benjamin used to say, “The one thing you need to understand about Congress is, Congress sucks.” I’m not getting where the path to victory starts, apart from the door to the Oval Office. So many of my good friends have worked so hard just to try to get a congressman to show up for a 15-minute briefing only to be stuck with bored interns pretending they will fill the boss in. Now that does pale in comparison!
I can recall many conversations with folks who said that what it would take to win would be for a young president to be elected, have a totally normal kid, and the world to watch him or her regress after the MMR and/or flu shots. (I’m not sure even that would do it, frankly – he’d just be labeled a kook.) We’ve all scanned family photos of newly nominated grandees and wondered if this child or that one might look autistic. We don’t wish it on them, but we are desperate for someone with some authority to understand in their bones, not just in their position papers, what’s going on.
In other words, we all realized that the path to winning is blocked off in so many ways that it would take somebody who already has power to make any difference at all. The key was having power and being willing to use it, not being a D or an R or a nice guy or gal or a jerk or a boor or someone who uses swear words.
The idea that a major party nominee would say, and get away with saying, that vaccines cause autism would have been inconceivable a year ago. Now we seem almost blasé about it. Perhaps people think Trump can't get elected or, like the rest of ‘em, wouldn’t do anything about it once elected. Yes, perhaps. Tell me, where are better odds, because I will be happy to bet them.
Speaking of odds, I worry that we won’t win, and I mean that in the world-historical sense, which is why I’m not sure how choosy we really think we can be about the path to victory. That’s not a bleak assessment, it’s just acknowledging one of the possible outcomes, and the fact that things don’t always work out to our hearts’ desires. We don’t like that. As a college roommate used to say with a huge grin first thing in the morning while I was barely awake, “Every day in every way things are getting better and better!”
They’re not, necessarily. I’ve heard Andy Wakefield express the same contrarian sentiment -- that whether or not this issue is resolved in our lifetime, or in fact ever, we have to consistently do the right, and skillful, things to try to bring it about. We do them, but we can’t know for sure whether they're making a dime's worth of difference.
When you get a sense of history about battles like this one – Paradigm Wars, as Mark Blaxill and I called them in our 2010 book The Age of Autism – you see how uncertain the outcome can be, and that time is not on the little guy’s side. Fairly often, the bad guys win and then they bury the corpse called Truth without an obituary or a proper funeral.
Let me briefly venture into a cautionary tale. As we wrote in our book, the evidence is very strong that when the medical establishment got hold of the syphilis epidemic when Columbus brought it back from the New World, they made a historic, five-century mess of things – and got away scot-free.
Because the early wave of syphilis in the naïve European population was especially hideous, with skin eruptions that disfigured people and often killed them, the doctors of the day attacked the bacterium with mercury salves. And because mercury is biologically “active” – it affects living things – it did subdue (kill) the surface manifestations, which seemed miraculous in the face of such suffering. Then doctors starting turning mercuric chloride (far worse than elemental mercury) into drinkable potions, and finally -- far worse than drinkable potions -- into injections of mercuric chloride.
That’s nuts, and it made many of the recipients (and providers) of this “modern treatment of syphilis” crazy as well. We show that it actually created the worst form of syphilis, the aptly named general paralysis of the insane (GPI).
This killed far more people, and for far longer, than syphilis itself. And – here is the point – except for a few obscure nods in the direction of this cause, the medical profession has never taken responsibility. I have a cousin who is a doctor and who read our chapter on syphilis with astonishment – it made perfect sense, but he had always been taught that GPI was just a tragic outcome of long-term syphilis infection.
Yet doctors knew, suspected, or should have known all along that they were causing this catastrophe, not preventing it. A few did. After our book came out, Teresa Conrick spotted an amazing article by a Danish doctor titled, “Is General Paresis [GPI] Dependent Upon Previous Treatment With Mercury?”
Check it out. Patients had been getting 400 treatments with mercury ointment, not to mention the injections. When that stopped, GPI fell off the cliff.
The title could really be something like, “Did we just kill millions of people over 500 years in the worst mass poisoning in history while trying to treat a disease that wasn’t even fatal?” The honest, open recognition of the enormity of what had gone on might have led to an understanding of mercury’s dangers in humans before the whole Pink Disease debacle (from teething powders and diaper ointments) killed babies in the 20th century. Not to mention the whole autism thing (or Freud’s mercury-poisoned “hysteria” cases.)
Nobody paid a price, even the price of acknowledging the truth.
And so I say ending the autism epidemic is no certain thing, as much as we like to encourage each other and appeal to the better angels of our collective nature.
Message: We’d better take our chances when we get ‘em. Don’t count on the perps walking in handcuffs or holding a press conference to acknowledge their grievous errors. Do we really want to settle for a piece in The Journal of Obscure Disorders in 100 years that says “early vaccine compounds now appear to have used toxic ingredients and formulations that triggered brain damage that was then called ‘autism.’ Fortunately, the march of medical progress has since led to much safer vaccines.”
No, we want a reckoning, restitution and justice -- now or as soon as humanly possible.
Right now we have a presumptive major party candidate who says too many vaccines, too soon are destroying the minds of our kids. People should make whatever judgments they want, but I'd like to know they've reckoned with the truth that the importance of ending the autism epidemic doesn't pale in comparison with very much at all.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.