Tag Archives: Ben Goldacre

The Autism Files: Vaccines and Drugs

5 Jun

I recently watched a PBS Frontline documentary, The Autism Wars.

Photo by Flickr user ghinson

I learned that one in three Americans are concerned about the rare yet serious side effects of vaccines.

I also learned that the debate over whether vaccines cause autism is still alive and thriving.

In fact, despite numerous scientific papers supporting the claim that there is no causal relationship between autism and vaccines or autism and thimerosal, the scientific establishment appears to be loosing the battle.

In many respects, it has come down to which army has built the most vociferous PR campaign.

The Autism Wars is worth watching for a few important reasons. If you’re unfamiliar with the debate, it clearly outlines the major arguments held by both sides. If you’re well-versed in this issue, it’s an engaging perspective of the current state of affairs south of the border. I would be very curious to know what Canadians think of the issue.

But most importantly, the documentary highlighted the power of new media to ‘overwhelm’ the debate. The disturbing video of Desiree Jennings, a cheerleader displaying unusual symptoms attributed to the seasonal flu vaccine, is but one example.

A vocal critic of the autism-vaccine causal relationship is Ben Goldacre pictured below.

Photo by Flickr user vbloke

He is a medical doctor and award-winning journalist who writes a blog, Bad Science.

It is the goldstandard for ‘unpicking dodgy scientific claims made by scaremongering journalists, dodgy government reports, evil pharmaceutical corporations, PR companies and quacks’.

His stories (see MMR-Never Mind the Facts) represent a small but considerable attempt by the scientific community to use the media to spread their message.

Although this debate has not yet closed its doors, the New Scientist reported an interesting new development in the world of autism research. Drug companies like Seaside Therapeutics are developing drugs that will treat the symptoms of autism. The drugs are intended to alter the brain chemistry of people with autism, changing their social behaviour in the process. It’s an interesting concept.

But would the parents who believe a vaccine gave their child autism give that same child a drug that will change their brain and thus change their personality?

Stay tuned. There will be more to come on the Autism Files.