On playgrounds and at playdates, it's hard to have a conversation about childhood immunizations without the word autism popping up. In fact, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics showed that one in four parents is concerned that vaccines can cause autism.
It's no wonder when the Internet and television airwaves are full of personal stories that raise a question about the link. But the study that started the autism vaccine scare was recently retracted by the prestigious journal that published it 12 years ago, and the lead researcher had his medical license pulled.
Given these developments, some experts hope we have finally reached the end of the debate.
I’ve been called stupid, greedy, a whore. (You can read reader comments here.) I’ve been called the author of “heinous tripe.” J.B. Handley, the founder of Generation Rescue, the anti-vaccine group that actress Jenny McCarthy helps promote, sent me an essay titled, “Paul Offit Rapes (intellectually) Amy Wallace and Wired Magazine.” In it, he implied that Offit had slipped me a date rape drug. Later, he sent me a revised version that omitted rape and replaced it with the image of me drinking Offit’s Kool-Aid. That one was later posted at the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism.
On Thanksgiving of last year, as the furor seemed to be dying down a bit, the website Age of Autism — the same site that published Handley’s “Kool-Aid” screed — posted a Photo-shopped portrait of me, Dr. Offit and several others who have written or reported on the vaccine issue (and not blamed vaccines for autism or numerous other maladies) sitting around a table, about to dig in to a holiday feast. The greeting on the card said, “Happy Thanksgiving from The Hotel California.” Instead of a turkey, the main course we were about to dine on was a baby.
Still, until Dec. 23, I had this to be thankful for: no one had sued me. Then came the rapping at the door. Here is what Barbara Loe Fisher, who I’d described in my story as “the brain” of the anti-vaccine movement and as “a skilled debater who often faces down articulate, well-informed scientists on live TV,” alleged in her suit: That a two-word quotation (Dr. Offit says of Fisher, “She lies.”) constituted a false statement of fact about her that would cause people to conclude that she is not a person of honesty or integrity. In this way, she alleged, I (along with Dr. Offit, and Conde Nast) had defamed her and caused her to appear “odious, infamous and ridiculous.”