Sunday, October 19, 2008

You Don't Have to Buy it for Me Now.


I read Paul Offit's, "Autism's False Prophets" over the weekend. Reading is something that's very manageable while at the in-laws house. Which is great, because I've really been wanting to read this book. Here's my review:

I knew that the so-called "vaccine debate" was very heated and very polarizing. I didn't realize quite how bad the situation was until lately. Just check out the Amazon reviews if you need proof. So far, everyone rated it either a 5 or a 1. I've been reading the Science-Based Medicine Blog lately and noticed that some of the anti vaccination comments were really off the wall. I also stumbled upon this book there. I've taken an interest in this particular subject, not because of any connection with autistic children (the closest association I can claim is that a student of my school was autistic and I can remember his name) but because it seems to be just one more example of science not getting to the public. I'm finding myself more and more interested in this subject and how exactly we can approach a fix. So, I read the book.

It's a great book. Dr. Offit is articulate, well mannered, and a wonderful voice of reason in a very dangerous debate that shouldn't even be taking place. The book explores the background of the vaccine debate from the first questions about MMR, to Thimerosal, to quack therapies and why we should all pay attention. Because of my interest in communicating science to the general public, I found his discussions of the inability of scientists and their data to trump parents and their emotionally charged accusations the most interesting, if a bit disheartening. This is the real problem in this battle. The science is very clear. The science says, "Autism is NOT caused by vaccination!" The problem, is that only scientists care about the science. How can you compete with Jenny McCarthy going on Oprah and discussing her very personal situation with her own child by pulling out a statistical analysis? It doesn't matter that we're right. It's very much like the (non-existent) evolution debate or climate change denialism. We don't win those arguments with science. Science is only one part of changing the minds of the populace. The real question is, "How do we get the public on our side?" It took Al Gore to get people to accept climate change. Al gore. What the fuck does Al Gore have to do with climatology? Nothing. Anyway, that's where the book falls short. It doesn't address the real problem. Not that it could. I don't know how we convince people to go to the proper authority (CDC) for information instead of the popular authority (Jenny McCarthy).

I don't think the book will change the minds of any parents that are already anti-vaccine. If someone is in that boat, they're very likely beyond the point of reason. I do hope it will help wake up the people that have been sitting on the sidelines, watching this debacle unfold. The world needs to stand up to people like Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, and John Kerry. The world needs to say, "Hey dipshit! YOU ARE NOT A SCIENTIST! YOU CAN'T EVEN SPELL EPIDEMIOLOGY! STOP PRETENDING TO KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!" I'm a biologist and I don't pretend to know the answers about autism and vaccines. I just know who to listen to. I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh about climate change. Or to Jerry Falwell about the science behind evolution. I do know that I WILL listen to the very under-funded, under-paid, under-appreciated, epidemiologists at the CDC as far as the autism-vaccine controversy is concerned.

In closing, if you're interested in further (and much better) reviews of this book, go here. If you're interested in the autism-vaccine debate and it's history, read the book. It's well worth your time. The Family Guy will wait (besides, you can watch it online with no commercials later).


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