Monday, May 12, 2008

THE WILLINGNESS TO CONFRONT UNCOMFORTABLE QUESTIONS

I’ve been on one of my blogging sabbaticals for a while. It’s not that there hasn’t been anything to write about; rather, it’s a matter of other things having higher priority than spouting off my opinions. As could be predicted, it took a condescending comment from Paul Offit to spur me to sit at the keyboard.

In an Associated Press report on the next test case in the Court of Claims, the reporter decided to get a quote from Doc O, the infectious disease guy who holds a vaccine patent and is a consultant for Merck (and, as is usually the case, those parts of his résumé were left out of the article). In an apparent reference to the fact that there is more than one theory being explored, Dr. Offit said: “I think that what’s so endearing to me about the anti-vaccine people is they’re perfectly willing to go from one hypothesis to the next without a backward glance.”

For those who aren’t able to recognize it, that statement is an example of what we call “sarcasm.” And what is he being sarcastic about? It seems that some of us have the temerity to constantly reexamine our opinions in the face of emerging science. I always thought the evolution of an idea lay at the heart of the scientific method, but apparently I was wrong. (Okay, that’s a little sarcasm on my part.)

Dr. Offit chooses to cling to a static concept, without regard to mounting evidence against that concept. It’s simply too uncomfortable for him to challenge his notions.

Contrast Dr. Offit’s smug attitude with the open mind of Dr. Bernadine Healy. Dr. Healy’s about as mainstream as it gets; she’s a former head of the National Institutes of Health and she’s a current member of the Institutes of Medicine. She’s hardly an antivaccine zealot. But in a recent interview with Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News, she stated her opinion that the question of a potential link between vaccinations and autism in genetically susceptible individuals is not yet settled and deserves serious study ⎯ study that has not yet been undertaken by the institutions charged with the protection of public health.

According to Healy, when she began researching autism and vaccines she found credible published, peer-reviewed scientific studies that support the idea of an association. That seemed to counter what many of her colleagues had been saying for years. She dug a little deeper and was surprised to find that the government has not embarked upon some of the most basic research that could help answer the question of a link.

The more she dug, she says, the more she came to believe the government and medical establishment were intentionally avoiding the question because they were afraid of the answer.

Dr. Healy has not formed an opinion that vaccines are definitely a trigger of ASD, or that vaccines are a major contributing factor to the current epidemic. She’s merely saying that there’s enough evidence to warrant a real examination.

As a commentator ⎯ albeit an amateur ⎯ on the issue of autism causation, I must admit that I’ve always found Paul Offit to be . . . well, endearing. Whenever I can’t seem to find anything to write about, Doc O comes to my rescue by saying something that just calls out for a comment. It’s nice, though, to have someone like Dr. Healy, who invites comment of a more flattering nature.

Check out an extended version of the interview with Dr. Healy to hear what a reasonable scientist sounds like.



3 Comments:

Blogger Sara said...

Great post!

5/14/08, 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Louisville Fats said...

When I saw the "endearing" comment in the news, I immediately thought I'd need to look at "Injecting Sense" to see if you commented on it. You might take it as a positive sign, in a way--the fact that the critics of your position are reduced to condescending insults that have nothing to do with the basic issue.

And it ought to be simple enough; two days worth of Iraq-war funding would be ample (I would think) to develop a mouse model and do some testing. What's so hard about that?

5/17/08, 8:03 AM  
Blogger Wade Rankin said...

Sara,thanks for stopping by again. I keep meaning to link to your excellent blog; I swear I'll get around to that soon.

As for you, my large-boned friend currently residing in the land of fast horses and smooth bourbon, I know that you are but a casual, albeit interested and sympathetic observer of our struggle. A few years back, for a teensie-tiny fraction of the amount you suggest, Dr. Maddy Hornig conducted some mouse studies with very interesting results. The question there was limited to the impact of thimerosal, and other studies are certainly warranted -- on the mercury issue and also the wider issues of vaccines (numbers, timing, etc), environmental insults in general, and the auto-immune processes that set our kids up for this thing. There's a lot of work that could be done for the amount you're suggesting. The current administration, however, hasn't even shown interest in going forward with the bullshit research authorized by the Combatting Autism Act; why then would it be interested in suggesting research that might shed a bad light on an industry with whom they enjoy a cozy relationship?

5/17/08, 8:37 AM  

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