The reasonable and concerned parent of a child with autism

One of the most ardent anti-vaccine people I know is this man.

This man portrays himself as a concerned parent who is just doing what any parent would do. By his account, his son regressed into autism shortly after being vaccinated. In his mind, this is definitive proof that it was the vaccines that caused it. Because of that idea, he has said things like this:

“With less than a half-dozen full-time activists, annual budgets of six figures or less, and umpteen thousand courageous, undaunted, and selfless volunteer parents, our community, held together with duct tape and bailing wire, is in the early to middle stages of bringing the U.S. vaccine program to its knees.”

That’s the spirit. Let’s bring back the epidemics of vaccine-preventable diseases to levels not seen in decades because of the scientifically unproven fear that vaccines cause autism. And it seems there is nothing that he won’t do, say, and no one he won’t follow (as long as they share the same ideology, of course).

About three years ago, just as the 2009-2010 influenza season was starting, a young woman from the Washington, DC area made the news because she claimed to have had a neurological condition thrust on her from an influenza vaccine. Here is the whole story, but pay attention to this part:

“Once the Internet was buzzing with this story, a guy named [redacted] got on the case. He’s an epidemiologist with the Maryland Department of Health, but he gets antsy when introduced that way, so we’re quoting him here strictly ex officio! Anyway, [he] found Jennings’ case report in the “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System,” which tracks this kind of thing. Her VAERS report reads in part, “The admitting neurologist felt that there was a strong psychogenic component to the symptomology, and made a final diagnosis of weakness.””

(This is what [redacted] wrote about that case.)

Things were not all that they seemed about that young lady, who was supported by the man in question and his organization. When asked about that whole thing by “Frontline”, this is how he answered:

“[Interviewer] Talk about the viral spread of an image over the Internet, like [Redskins cheerleader] Desiree Jennings’ flu shot story, for example.[Man] It’s remarkably powerful what an image or an idea can do in today’s day and age, and for a group of parents who feel completely outmatched — because think for a moment about who our enemy is; our enemies are the largest pharmaceutical companies on the planet, making billions of dollars in net profit a year — you’d think that we could never compete with that. But an idea can transmit itself powerfully and very cheaply for millions to see. So in the case of Desiree, here you have an image of this beautiful woman who’s been severely disabled that literally tens of millions of people view overnight, and imagine the chilling effect that has on a flu vaccine that she attributes as the cause of her condition. It’s remarkably powerful.
[Interviewer] Does it matter whether it’s true or not?[Man] Truth always bears out in the end, so I’m a firm believer in that. Are there moments in time where truth is exaggerated or expanded? Absolutely. But truth bears out in the end. …”

“Are there moments when the truth is exaggerated or expanded? Absolutely” Wow. That’s an understatement. Myself and other bloggers, journalists, writers, and, let alone, scientists have documented time and again the misinformation and outright lies from anti-vaccine groups and their members. Everything from conspiracy theories about multinational parties and even extraterrestrial invasions has been discussed and revealed for what it all is: lies and misinformation.

“But truth bears out in the end.” I guess, if the waves of anti-vaccine-induced panic don’t bring about “the end” to people who didn’t know better but to listen to anti-vaccine propaganda.

But the man in question is just being a reasonable, concerned parent. From that same interview on “Frontline”:

[Interviewer] Once you connected with these groups, you started to play a role in the organization?
[Man] If you saw The Matrix, it’s like all of a sudden you’re looking behind the matrix as to everything that’s going on. We’ve got 1 in 6 kids with learning disability, 1 in 12 with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder], 1 in 110 with autism. What’s happening to our children is insane, and once my wife and I were pulled behind the matrix to see what was going on, we felt compelled to act, not only on behalf and in honor of our own son, but on behalf of all these other kids, too.”

It’s all about the children. But I have the sneaky suspicion that it is about something else, too. No, I’m not talking about money. The man has more than enough money to cover the media blitzes against vaccines, supporting his efforts to bring the U.S. vaccine program “to its knees”. I’m talking about an ideology.

An ideology is a way of looking at the world. Ideologies shape our actions and dictate our goals. It is neither good nor bad to have an ideology. It’s just one of those things about being a thinking human being. (Thinking does not equal rational, by the way. Not in this context.) From what I gather in the man’s blog posts and interviews, his ideology is one that vaccines cause autism, period. And, like any good ideologue, he seems to have his champion.

Who is this champion worthy of the man saying the following about him?

“To our community, Andrew Wakefield is Nelson Mandela and Jesus Christ rolled up into one… He’s a symbol of how all of us feel.”

A discredited physician-researcher who was struck off the medical register in the UK and found to have committed fraud in his MMR-autism “study” is, to the man, the equivalent of a freedom and equality fighter AND The Son of God.

Do I really need to write more?

I do and I don’t. The hardcore anti-vaccine types have probably already skipped to the comments section and started writing something full of vitriol that I won’t publish (because it’s full of vitriol). Or they clicked away to the anti-vaccine echo chamber, their hearts festering with hate for me. For those people, I don’t need to continue writing.

For the pro-science, truly reasonable person who accepts the evidence, compares it to what we already know, and follows the science wherever it leads us, this whole thing is nothing they have not heard already. They probably already moved on.

This is for those of you who are on the fence about vaccines, autism, and science in general. I want to reach out to you if you have just discovered that your child is autistic and you’re wondering if it was the vaccines that caused it. Despite what this man and his ideology, his blogs, his celebrity friends, and his fellow ideologues tell you about vaccines, here is the wheat separated from the chaff:

  • We have looked at the biological process by which vaccines protect us from infectious diseases by activating our immune system. This process does not lead to autism. Not in humans. Not in lower primates. Not in mice. Not in a computer simulation.
  • We have taken groups of children with autism and groups of children without autism and compared their vaccination records. Their vaccination records are the same. Being vaccinated or not has no bearing on the risk of autism.
  • We have looked at countries that provide lesser numbers of vaccine doses or overall vaccines. Their rates of autism are comparable to the United States. The reason they may be different in some cases is that they have a different definition of autism or no way to track it, or both.
  • We have looked at the risks of reactions from vaccines and determined that those reactions occur at a frequency in orders of magnitude less than if the person gets the infection itself. That is, you’re more likely to be injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. Heck, you’re more likely to die driving to the doctor to get your vaccine than to get any reaction from a vaccine.
  • Reactions to vaccines can and will occur, but, as stated above, they are less frequent and less severe than the diseases themselves. Not vaccinating opens an avenue for those disease to come back and really do a number of the lives and wellbeing of children everywhere, not just yours.

By “we”, I mean scientists, epidemiologists, physicians, researchers… People who have done a lot of studying at accredited institutions of higher learning, who have written peer-reviewed papers, and whose evidence has stood the test of everything. “We” are those of us whose ideology can best be summed up as “that’s interesting, let’s see what the science says” when it comes to issues such as these.

By “we”, I do not mean celebrities who saw a coincidence and ran with it to sell you their story.

I certainly do not mean a man who has taken it upon himself to destroy the one thing that keeps the story being told in “The Poxes” from being a reality.

7 thoughts on “The reasonable and concerned parent of a child with autism

  1. Yes Reuben, the links on here. I knew what I would be reading when I clicked on them, but did anyways…I still can't believe what some people believe….

  2. That odious man that you refer to, has been busy posting articles at that notorious anti-vaccine website.I took on the "Media Director" at Emily Willingham's Forbes blog:"No you didn’t write about the autism tsunami, (Media Director). You used Hurricane Sandy which impacted millions of people in the northeast and caused the deaths of hundreds of Americans, as yet another excuse to post on (redacted).You sat in your warm comfortable home in the midwest, totally ignorant of the homes and lives lost, swept away by Hurricane Sandy.You and your fellow *journalists* at (redacted), always tie in national holidays, national days of remembrance and national emergencies with downright ugly and crass articles about autism.There’s a whole world out there (Media Director), of parents who actually devote their time and efforts to develop and expand programs for children as they “age out” of school programs, so that their adult autistic children will have the opportunity to live out their lives with dignity and as full members of society.Rather than spending time lamely trying to link vaccines with the onset of autism, you and your crew ought to *think* about real advocacy on behalf of autistic children and adults.

  3. What gets me is that prevalence will never describe an epidemic. But these people are beyond reason. They're zealots. Wakefield like Jesus? As if.

  4. The quote "We've got 1 in 6 kids with learning disability," is one I particularly hate. It is equivalent to saying "Oh noes! Half of the students are below average!"On a normal standard distribution (a bell curve) those that are one standard deviation below the mean is about one out of six. It also means that four out of six are one standard deviation from the mean, and remaining one out of six are a standard deviation above the mean.When my son was tested for special ed. preschool services by Child Find he had to fall two standard deviations below the mean in a certain number of areas to qualify. Since the appointment that I worked so hard to get happened the day he left the hospital (croup), he failed everything and was admitted. It turns out his gross motor skills were the only area that was affected, so they moved him from one on one therapy to group therapy.

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