Saturday, January 29, 2011

THE LEVEL OF THE DEBATE JUST GOT RAISED A LITTLE BIT (A VERY LITTLE BIT)

WITF, a public television station in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania recently hosted a lively discussion on its show, Smart Talk. The subject was the potential vaccine-autism connection, and the format essentially pitted Mark Blaxill against two representatives of the mainstream medical community. It was not a fair fight; there were only two on the other side.

There was a likely intent to stack the deck against the connection, but a couple of things stopped that from happening. First, the moderator allowed Mark to finish sentences—a mark of civility that seems to have been forgotten by the likes of Anderson Cooper. The second thing that happened was that one of the doctors, Jeanette Ramer, seems to have ignored the script. She clearly does not put any credence in the research suggesting a link (which may be due to the fact that she clearly had not actually read much—if any—of that research). And she did not have as great a grasp on the facts as she might have.

For the most part, though, Dr. Ramer made her points in a calm and rational manner, without resorting to over-the-top arguments, other than an unfortunate use of what I like to call “the O.J. argument.” You’ve heard it before; if only we didn’t have to worry about those pesky vaccine questions, we could put all our resources into hunting for the “real killers.” At least she did not try to make the absurd argument that there is no environmental factors at all, and that the rise in diagnosis is due solely to an broader diagnostic criteria and better awareness.

That was the type of argument handed to us, though, by the other doctor on the panel, Cynthia DeMuth. She was a through-and-through Offiteer. Dr. DeMuth recited the standard talking points, and even cited (I kid you not) the Danish study as proof that thimerosal didn’t play a role in the epidemic. She also talked about the convincing nature of some goofy study in which “experts” viewed birthday party videos of one-year-olds, who had not yet received the MMR, and they identified which children would later be diagnosed with ASD.

It seemed that at some point, the program became a two-person discussion between Mark and Dr. Ramer. Dr. DeMuth was out of her league, and was properly ignored.

I have no expectations that civility may spread to the ongoing debate in the media. I won’t hold my breath. But it sure was nice to see what Mark can get across when given a chance.

Watch the full episode. See more Smart Talk.

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