Dateline Takes on Autism and VaccinesBrett Singer
I caught part of an interesting piece on Dateline NBC last night. Unfortunately the full segment isn’t online, at least not where I can find it. But maybe they’ll air it again. Still, there is some material available on Dateline’s web site.
My take on what I saw was that this is a very serious issue that for many people has become an either-or issue. Either you believe vaccines cause autism or you don’t. Dr. Paul Offit is a horrible man who has made millions of dollars from a vaccine that he created, therefore he can’t possibly be a credible source when it comes to a link between vaccines and autism. Dr. Andrew Wakefield is nothing but a quack and a crazy person, therefore none of his ideas are valid. When an issue becomes this divisive, it becomes much more difficult to see if either side has anything important to add to the discussion of such an important topic. (Kind of like, oh I don’t know, a national health care plan.)
Here a few things I found interesting in the MSNBC piece. Again, the video that I saw isn’t available online, so this is from memory.
– The charge that Dr. Andrew Wakefield is offering something very seductive to parents of children with autism is valid. That doesn’t mean that he isn’t offering anything of use. I don’t know if he is or not. But Dr. Offit makes a good point in the Dateline piece when he says that parents looking for answers will be drawn to Dr. Wakefield rather than the medical establishment, because Wakefield is at least putting out a strong opinion on why their children are suffering.
– Wakefield creeps me out. I know, maybe that’s unfair. Just my opinion. Something about the eyes and the way people flock to him to have their picture taken. (This is in the video.)
– A doctor that Wakefield works with is Dr. Arthur Krigsman. He and Wakefield believe that a condition called “Autistic enterocolitis” is responsible for many cases of autistm. They actually had me partly convinced until they mentioned colon cleansing, which I generally find is espoused by folks of questionable credentials. Again, just my opinion. Still, the notion of gastrointestinal issues being linked to autism is an interesting idea. Why not explore it further? At the same time, when Krigsman and Wakefield say that children with autism are “better” after having their colons cleaned out and a change of diet, I have to wonder if that’s because their “autism” is “cured” of if they’re just happier because they’re eating better food. I’m not autistic but I feel better when I eat healthy stuff. (Never had my colon cleaned out, though.)
– Towards the end of the piece, Matt Lauer visits other doctors and shows them conducting research on the brains of babies, trying to pinpoint when autistic symptoms start to appear. (Not a new idea, apparently.) This looked like very relevant and level-headed research. In other words, it wasn’t a “movement” being led by a “personality.” It was just, you know, medical research.
– Anyone who says that Dr. Offit’s comments are motivated by money because he created a vaccine needs to explain to me how Jenny McCarthy hasn’t benefited from her austism activism. It was announced in May that Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Productions will produce a talk show starring McCarthy. Does anyone believe that this would have happened before she went on her campaign? I want to be clear: I am not saying that Jenny McCarthy became an activist for autism in order to get a television show. But Dr. Offit is not going to make any more or less money by taking a position on autism and vaccines. The only extra money he could make would be from his book. (CORRECTION: According to multiple sources, I am told that Dr. Offit donates any money from the sale of his book to autism research.) But Jenny McCarthy also wrote a book. It’s a pointless argument. It would be better to discredit what Offit says based on what he says, not speculation about why he is saying it.
That was more than I planned to write but there it is. Basically my point is that this is a serious topic that deserves a more serious debate than I think it is getting. Everything isn’t one thing or another thing. Sometimes both sides are right. And wrong.
Here is a small part of the story that aired. Hopefully it will be on again. (Click here if/when the embeded video won’t play.)