What’s the Harm?

January 16, 2009 · 2 comments

As a parent of a child with Asperger’s syndrome, I pay particular attention to the debate over whether vaccinations cause autism – an issue that has been settled scientifically time and time again.  (Short answer: Vaccines don’t cause autism.)

The debate is emotionally charged – what parent wouldn’t want to find a root cause for his child’s difficulties? Photos of autistic children, and their stories, feature prominently in media coverage. It’s emotional blackmail meant to sway public perceptions, and, unfortunately, it works.

I speak up against the vaccine hypothesis whenever it is mentioned to me, but I’ve found a new resource in the What’s the Harm? web site. Their mission is summed up neatly:

This site is designed to make a point about the danger of not thinking critically. Namely that you can easily be injured or killed by neglecting this important skill. We have collected the stories of over 225,000 people who have been injured or killed as a result of someone not thinking critically.

In the same way I direct people to snopes.com to debunk urban legends and chain-letter emails, I will now be directing people to What’s the Harm? to debunk “scientific” claims founded in poor critical thinking. The site isn’t just a collection of facts, it’s a collection of stories about victims of failures to think.

Here are a few direct links dealing with autism and vaccines:

What’s the harm in Autism denial?

What’s the harm in vaccine denial?

The MMR story that wasn’t (from Bad Science)

I also recommend two blogs:

Autism Blog, a UK-based clearinghouse for scientific and political news about autism.

Neurodiversity Weblog, which covers the status of lawsuits brought against vaccine manufacturers.

During his campaign, our president elect caved to popular opinion and made statements suggesting that the autism/vaccination link required “further study.” Fortunately he now has more pressing issues that will keep him occupied for a while. But the issue won’t go away. Do some reading, arm yourself with some facts.

Be very, very careful what you put into that head, because you will never, ever get it out.
— Thomas Cardinal Wolsey (1471-1530)

2 comments

Bryan January 18, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Hi Dave–Terra told me you had a new blog, and I see you haven’t had much commentary yet, so I thought I would fix that. I’ve actually been following the autism/vaccine debate a little–I read the blogs on the scienceblogs website, and some of the bloggers there have been pretty vocal about it. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the notion that RFK jr, who’s been a major voice in the antivaccine movement, might get a position in the new administration. I have to wonder if some of the problem has to be that vaccines have, in fact, been overall successful at controlling diseases. Today’s parents of young children don’t remember the terror previous generations had of, say, a polio epidemic coming through their town, so they don’t really have a visceral understanding of the risks of not vaccinating.

It is annoying to hear Obama saying that it needs “further study,” which is distinctly reminiscent of the way the Bush administration talked about global warming. Especially since he’s made some good choices in other science-related areas. He clearly wants to have a more “reality based” administration (not that that would be hard), but that doesn’t mean he is going to be free from other political considerations.

David January 18, 2009 at 5:44 pm

I sent an email to Obama’s transition team urging them not to appoint RFK Jr. I guess it worked.

I predict that within the next five years we will see a class action suit in which parents of vaccinated schoolchildren sue a group of parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated, citing negligent exposure to treatable diseases like measles.

If only more vaccines worked like the Sabin oral polio vaccine: the attenuated virus passes into the water table, resulting in passive immunization of entire communities.

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