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Monday, December 3, 2012

Another Take on the Hearing

At Forbes, Steven Salzberg writes that members of Congress asked bad questions at the hearing. (Not all of them were members of the House Oversight Committee, by the way.  As often happens, the chair granted the request of other lawmakers to take part in the hearing.)
To make matters worse, the House committee invited Mark Blaxill to testify. Blaxill is a well-known anti-vaccine activist whose organization, SafeMinds, seems to revolve around the bogus claim that mercury in vaccines causes autism. His organization urges parents not to vaccinate their children, and giving him such a prominent platform only serves to spread misinformation among parents of young children.
Blaxill’s central claim is that that we’re in the midst of an autism epidemic:
“For a long time, reported U.S. autism rates were low, estimated at about 1 in 10,000. Then around 1990 something new and terrible happened to a generation of children. Autism rates didn’t just rise, they multiplied,” claimed Blaxill in his written testimony.
His entire argument builds on this. Yet multiple studies, looking carefully and objectively at the data, indicate that all or nearly all of the rise in autism cases is due to increasing diagnoses, which in turn is due to multiple factors: a dramatically broading of the definition of autism in the early 1990s, a greater awareness of the condition, and a greater willingness of doctors and parents to accept the diagnosis. For an objective summary of the evidence, see the articles by neurologist Steven Novella here and here, which summarize a dozen epidemiological studies. The weight of the evidence shows that the actual incidence of autism is either stable or possibly rising very slowly. There is no “autism epidemic.”