In breaking my little hiatus, I obviously need to put aside anything else I was going to write about because the government concession in the Poling case changes everything . But maybe not in the way you think.
The fact is, the concession has very little impact on the rest of the cases pending in the Court of Claims. There is no precedential effect at all. The most that can be said about the legal side of the development is that for the first time the Department of Justice was willing to concede that ⎯ at least in one case ⎯ there just might be a problem. It’s hard to say why they did that, but I suspect they had problems with the defense experts, and perhaps they were afraid to risk a fully ajudicated loss in a case in which the plaintiffs could not be easily dismissed as wackos.
It’s obvious that the DOJ hopes their concession will not have any impact beyond the Pollings. The tortured semantics of the concession display the intent to make the action more narrow than logic would allow. I mean, really, what the hell can “autism-like symptoms” mean? Autism is not so much a distinct disorder as it is a descriptive term for a constellation of clinical indications. By definition, autism is nothing more than a collection of “autism-like symptoms.”
The DOJ gambled that their little concession would not make much of a splash, and that they could continue to rely on the perception that all of us who believe that vaccines may have played a role in triggering our children’s “autism-like symptoms” are anti-science zealots who practice voo doo on our kids. (When I originally noted that some of the Pollings' public statements led me to believe that they rely primarily on more conventional interventions. See Ginger's comments to this post for further clarification.) Of course, a truly critical examination leads to the opposite conclusion: that the “junkier” of the competing sciences are the epidmiological number crunches that try to disprove a connection.
The government lost its gamble. And that’s the true significance. The mainstream media now acknowledges that the debate may not be as close to over as was previously portrayed. Many people are now taking a fresh look at the issue, who once took for granted the party line that “virtually all reputable studies, yadda, yadda.” And this time, those who are taking that fresh look are exercising a more critical attitude, and they are not so willing to assume that the official story is correct.
Courts of law have never been very adept at determining scientific truth. When it comes to science, they are designed to maintain the status quo. That’s been the problem with the vaccine court process from the beginning. The statute of limitations ⎯ and to an equal extent the financial needs of the claimant families ⎯ have demanded that the legal system make decisions prematurely, before science can give us a real handle on the truth. Justice has never been guaranteed (or even expected).
But now we have an admission that there might be something worthy of further study, an admission that’s getting a lot of attention. It is now much harder to argue against funding studies that are designed to take a fair look at the issue.
If the Polings are the last family to receive compensation in these cases, we all have still won a great victory. We’re a step closer to a truth that will be acknowledged as such.