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Monday, December 17, 2018


 In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.

Alex Berezow at The American Council on Science and Health:
One of these beliefs is not like the other: The moon landing was faked. 9/11 was an inside job. Vaccines cause autism.
What all the beliefs have in common is that they’re completely bonkers and quite rightly shunned by sane society. But the belief that vaccines cause autism is unique; unlike the other two myths, this one gets people killed. That is not an exaggeration; the gigantic measles outbreak that has swept Europe has claimed the lives of 37 people.
What makes the vaccine-autism myth even more astounding is that some high-profile people still feel comfortable claiming that it’s true. Congressman-Elect Mark Green, who represents a district in Tennessee, is one of those people. Stunningly, he is also a medical doctor.
But it gets worse. Green also believes that the CDC knows that vaccines cause autism, but that the organization is fraudulently hiding it. He also blamed autism on preservatives, a belief that has long been debunked.
Randy Rieland at Johns Hopkins Magazine:
"The starting point was the Wakefield study," says Meghan Moran, an assistant professor in the Bloomberg School of Public Health and a researcher who focuses on the communication of health information to the public. "It was a study by a real scientist and published in a real medical journal. Folks who didn't like vaccines to begin with were able to point to a specific study. We later found out it was fabricated and withdrawn from the literature. But the fact that it was withdrawn can be twisted into the belief that the medical industry doesn't want the real knowledge to come out. Because of social media, that idea can be disseminated much more rapidly and more widely today."

Those who oppose mandatory vaccinations often say they aren't actually anti-vaccine but rather pro-choice—that it should be a decision left up to the parents. It's a position that appeals to a broad spectrum of skeptics, according to Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "On the right, it's more of a libertarian argument: 'I don't think I should be made to have a biological fluid injected into myself or my child. Let me do my own research and I will make the best decision for my family. Get the government off my back.' On the left, it's 'I want all things natural. Injecting a biological thing into my child's arm is not a natural thing to do.' Two different arguments, both ill-founded."
The challenge is that the persistent and strategic use of social media by the anti-vaccine movement has enabled it to have an outsize influence. Michael Kinch, director of Washington University's Center for Research Innovation in Business, remembers the reaction to his recent book, Between Hope and Fear: A History of Vaccines and Human Immunity. "Within the first few hours the book was out, the anti-vaxxers went on Amazon and smeared it," he says. "This group is very organized. Anyone who underestimates them does so at their own risk. When they do things like this, you just have to assume that they mean well. They're convinced that vaccines cause harm."