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Monday, January 9, 2017

Vaccines, Autism, Alternative Medicine, and Real Medicine

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the discredited theory that vaccines cause autism.  Most physicians and scientists reject the notion, but there are a few (e.g., Wakefield) who lend a thin veneer of authority to it.
Another problem is that average Internet users may have a hard time telling junk from high-quality research. Many articles and blog posts arguing for the vaccine-autism link have the trappings of genuine academic research: tables, graphs, citations, and scientific jargon. Some of the authors have credentials such as M.D. or Ph.D. degrees. None of these things is a guarantee of scientific value, as the history of science is full of crackpot theories (e.g., AIDS denialism) that are the heavily-footnoted products of people with letters after their names. 
Brie Zeltner reports at The Cleveland Plain Dealer:
The Cleveland Clinic wellness doctor who posted a column on Friday bashing vaccines apologized today for the uproar his comments caused, and the hospital system promised "appropriate discipline."

Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director and chief operating officer of the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, said Sunday that he "fully supports vaccination" and was trying to open a conversation about their safety, not question their use.
Julia Belluz writes at Vox:
The medical profession has been struggling with how to deal with dangerous doctor talk, since doctors can pretty much say anything and keep their medical licenses (outside of the doctor-patient context). But with a President-Elect coming into the White House who has also shared anti-vaccine rhetoric, the medical profession better think about how to deal with its rogue members, and get better at spreading the message about why we desperately need vaccines.
At Stat, Casey Ross explains that a number of hospitals have dipped their toe into the dubious world of alternative medicine:
Dr. Paul Offit, a professor of pediatrics and director of the vaccination education center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said doctors in integrative medicine institutes sometimes “cross the line into this fuzzy, metaphysical thinking, which is what [Neides] did.”
He said Neides displayed a total lack of knowledge about the preservatives and activating agents used in vaccines, and did not even properly distinguish between them in his column. “It’s the usual bull(expletive),” he said, “which is to say that everything with a chemical name is bad for you.”
Offit noted that his own hospital has a division of integrative and holistic medicine. “I too fight this fight internally,” he said. “We all do. Harvard does. Yale does. It’s not uncommon to have this, and the reason is that hospitals cater to a marketplace, and there is a market out there for this kind of medicine.”