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:
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)