Thursday, October 23, 2008

Autism's False Prophets

The book currently on my reading list is about a subject very close to me. The book is Autism’s False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine and the Search for a Cure by Paul A. Offit M.D. To begin with, my father was a microbiologist at CDC and we used to discuss his work a lot. I even did a science fair project using some of the data that CDC collected. Although I am far from being an immunologist, I do have a working knowledge of the theory and the processes. So when Offit describes certain aspects of his work I understand the concept pretty quickly. Secondly, for the last fifteen years or so I’ve had a personal interest in the search for a cure for Autism. My brother-in-law is autistic. So this field is not just an academic pursuit for me. It’s somewhat personal.
If you are not familiar with the controversy around autism this book would be an excellent primer. Though far more than just a primer, it goes into great detail of the history of vaccines, the testing they do to insure and keep them safe, and the ongoing checks and balances in the field. In comparison to the patient, detailed, extensive research done on vaccines those who proclaim that vaccines are unsafe appear at best to be amateurs who are letting personal profit, opinion, bias, or just an unrealistic optimism cloud their judgment and research. Far from just being ad hominem attacks on his opponents, Offit takes each study and points out the flaws, deviations from protocol, biases and conflicts of interest.
Offit does an amazingly thorough job of explaining the big picture concept of vaccinations. If you think that the airplane, the internet, cars or any other technical marvel has most changed our world in the last century, Offit will convince you that they all come in as distant seconds in any comparison that includes vaccines. Quite literally, many of us would not be here today if it were not for the life-saving ability of vaccines.
There is a group of people out there who base their opinions on emotion, flawed research, conspiracy theories and the hope against hope that they can find a cure. While I share their frustration, I deplore their tactics. Offit details where many of these groups sidestep logic and proper scientific procedure and truly join the ranks of the lunatic fringe. Jenny McCarthy self describes those on her side as an “angry mob”. The prologue to the book details several of the death threats that he and his family have received in response to him testifying in favor of vaccines. How ironic that those claiming to be all about saving lives are threatening the lives and safety of an immunologist and his children.
To spoil the ending for you; there is zero correlation between the MMR vaccines and autism. None. Zero. There is zero correlation between the preservative Thimerosal and autism. None. Chelation therapy is expensive and deadly and does not cure autism. Vaccines work. They save countless lives every single year.
If you get your news on this subject from Oprah, Jenny McCarthy, politicians with an agenda, or your Homeopath you will likely disagree with most of this book. However, if you prefer to trust respected scientist in the field, decades of research, and thorough evidence-based research you will enjoy reading this book. Offit won’t convert Jenny McCarthy with this book. But, if you are still open-minded, and able to be swayed by the evidence he will show you the facts and the research and let you connect the dots yourself.

“The trouble with the world is not that people know too little, it’s that they know so many things that just aren’t so.”
Mark Twain


  1. Yet, another book I'm looking forward to reading. Thank you for your review. It is comforting to me that my brother has such a wonderful advocate!

  2. What happened to a professional approach to research and treatment! The problem is that the people who need to read the book probably won't. The definition is so broad for autism now that any thought for "one" cause or "one" treatment or "one" educational plan is a farce.

  3. Suzanne6:49 PM

    Thanks for giving me the link to this blog. It sounds like an interesting book and I would like to think one day someone can find the cause of it. Many people have tried to talk us into alternative therapies. I have discovered so far that most of them are just about taking my money (insurance doesnt cover it). However, I can see improvements since we started speech and occupational therapy. Doctors/insurance cover those.. :-)