Thursday, January 6, 2011

Kids, Science and Autism

Following the recent flap over Andrew Wakefield's fall from grace, I am reminded again of the fact that science is an ongoing investigation.  There can seldom be an absolute conclusion; especially in medicine, which is part art, part magic and part human cussedness.  I am convinced that in a distant future our offspring will look back upon chemotherapy as insane barbarism.  But for now, it's our best shot, and a therapy, though imperfect, that has saved many thousands of lives in spite of the wretched side effects.

Speaking of shots, what about childhood immunizations?

Wakefield is defending his position.  As a recap, his article in the British journal Lancet with 12 other authors, linking autism to the MMR vaccine, has been retracted; and 10 of the 13 authors have recanted.  Brian Deer, writing for the British Medical Journal, calls the article deliberate fraud.

Wakefield insists that the backlash is spurred by big pharma, who don't want consumers to know how dangerous their vaccines are.  I read The Pandora Prescription by James Sheridon about the mafia-like drug makers' conspiracy to keep diseases from being cured,  and Jodi Picoult's book House Rules, about an autistic teen.

I understand the strong emotions surrounding the autism debate.  Who can resist Jenny McCarthy?  It becomes moot whether she is on to something or she is dead wrong, deluded by her love for her child.  It is her love that is true.  And it is our love of truth that should underlay our pursuit of science.  The science in this case is as frustrating as science always is and always has been.  We have a theory, we test it, we prove it under as many circumstances as possible, and eventually we have to revise our earlier thinking.  I have read that fully 40% of the information in most prestigious medical journals is proven false within ten years.  That's the main "truth" of science.  It's always progressing.

I love children, and loved being a mother.  I don't love quarreling, but I am a huge fan of discussion and discovery.  I would love it if Wakefield, Deer, McCarthy, and everyone who has cause to follow research on autism, would think of their quest as a mutual passion for answers and not waste time denouncing each other.

Here are two recent drawings for Kat Green Store, celebrating trial and error in science.


  1. I think this debate is fascinating. Any argument that is ruled by emotion and money is sure to be extremely polar. On one side you have parents who are desperate for an answer as to why their children are the way you are and on the other you have multi billion dollar companies trying to maintain profits. I feel personally that as long as research is funded by one company or person with their own agendas then we'll never get any real answers. I can't count how many times I've read results of some study only to find that the research was funded by some organization who's interest is supported by the results. Then I'll see another study refuting the first paid for by the opposition. This is what I'm seeing with this situation. The only problem is 1000's of parents were affected by the results. I just hope that research can be funded by a third party that doesn't stand to gain or lose anything by the results. Until then this fascinating polar debate will rage on.

  2. I agree. What is the payoff? We no longer a terrified that our kids will get polio, yet we're terrified that they'll "get" autism, if that's even possible. There is a huge whooping cough outbreak here in CA, all my kids have been immunized so I don't have to worry. We're always going to be trading one thing for the other. And if there is ANY way to make money, everything gets skewed!

    All that aside, we love the drawings! :)