Monday, June 27, 2005

"Scientific Debate" and the NYT

Saturday's New York Times reports that "on autism's cause, it's parents versus research". The Times story investigates the link between vaccines and autism, but it discusses only the evidence that Thimerosal is safeā€¦the research that Kennedy referred to as "junk science" done by "phony scientists". The story asserts that parents who are fighting against Thimerosal are uninformed and scientifically backward, fighting against mercury in vaccines despite science, rather than because of science. The article makes no mention of the science upon which these parents rely...science that is laid out here.

I have not personally seen the research. Even if I had, I could not evaluate it, as I am in no way trained in advanced biochemistry. I do not know which side is correct. My intuition tells me that the link exists because autism rates increase whenever vaccine mandates increase. But at this point, with opposing research, the truth is not clear.

That being the case, the Times article does a disservice to the parents of autistic children by claiming that their fears are based on some sort of old wives' tale or backward thinking. The author referred to the parents' movement as a "surge of attention to an idea without scientific merit" and quoted a woman who referred to the "terrifying...scientific illiteracy that supports these suspicions." Certainly, these parents have seen science linking Thimerosal to autism. There is not a movement of parents who believe an idea that is truly without scientific merit like a link between autism and, say, tax cuts. If there is science on both sides that has not been completely discredited (which there is), that fact should have been mentioned in the article. To portray these parents as illiterate and idiotic is irresponsible journalism given the information available. The Times did not need to endorse the research...it just needed to mention that it was out there.

Finally, I am troubled by the fact that there are two sides to a SCIENTIFIC story. In my view, science should produce absolute truths...things that have been tested and proven. We have lost something as a nation when the scientific community debates instead of testing and persuades instead of proving. Scientists of opposing theories should pool resources reach a consensus rather than dividing up into separate, competing teams. As they say, two minds are better than one. And as I say, never trust a scientist whose paycheck precedes his findings.

1 Comments:

Anonymous Ed said...

When you listen to the debate, remember that the autism parents have their alterior motives for wanting a link between autism and thimerosal. You should also remember that the medical community has their reasons for wanting no link between autism and thimerosal.

So when I see a study by the medical community that was peer reviewed by the medical community I have to ask if this is Kosher. When I see the medical community questioning whether there really is an autism epidemic, I have to say they are ignoring what is happening in the schools. When I see the medical community say it is just a matter of better diagnosis, I have to say that they have never experienced life with an autistic child. When I see the medical community say that the changes in children after vaccination are just "anecdotal", I have to say that they have not seen the video records that some of the parents kept. There is other linkage between autism and thimerosal such as what happened with thimerosal and teething powder. Of course, none of this ever gets into the medical literature because the medical studies were written to prove that there is no link between thimerosal and autism, not to determine if there really is one. Like all such studies, they achieve their purpose at the sacrifice of science.

I know what an autism epidemic means. It means that the nature or nurture question has to have nurture in its answer. Something happened that brought this epidemic and it has to cover the geography of the epidemic and it has to cover the time of the epidemic. I see this as the reason for questioning whether there is an epidemic and the statement that the epidemic can be attributed to diagnostics.

There is a saying "Never ascribe to malice what can be attributed to ignorance." At this time, I ascribe this attitude to ignorance on the medical community's part. Many of my fellow parents do not. I believe that is because the blindness to anything that might impugn vaccines seems so deliberate.

I am a parent of an autistic son. I am not hysterical. I have personally seen the regression that other parents have written about. I have seen my son join another autistic child in an elementary school of 250. My son is HIGH FUNCTIONING, yet his symptoms were so profound that I could never leave them undiagnosed. Maybe you can find the autistics between 40 and 60. I can't. I am not part of the lawsuit crowd, because I do not believe it is in the autism community's best interest to sue the medical community into oblivion. I have to laugh albeit bitterly at the "Junk Science" label having seen the sham that the medical community has made with their studies.

There is a lot to be said on the other side. It is too bad that our spokesmen are Kirby and Kennedy. Neither carries the credentials and both carry the baggage of alterior motives.

10:39 PM  

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