Autism's False Prophets

5 Sep
Autism's False Prophets. Bad science, risky medicine and the search for a cure - Dr Paul Offit

Autism's False Prophets. Bad science, risky medicine and the search for a cure - Dr Paul Offit

Available now – Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Canada.

NB – Dr Offit is donating all profits from this book to autism research.

So. Here’s the short review: holy shit, this is a good book, you need to buy it and pass it on. Make your local library stock a copy or three.

Here’s the longer review.

The book begins – after a dedication that made me grin from ear to ear – with a quote so acutely apposite that its like Professor Szasz said it to perfectly sum up the book and the last ten years:

When religion was strong and science weak,
men mistook magic for medicine.
Now, when science is strong and religion weak,
men mistake medicine for magic.

I knew Dr Offit got a lot of hate mail. What I didn’t know was the extent and the utter viciousness of it. From the books prologue:

Whilst sitting in my office, I got a phone call from a man who said that he and I shared the same concerns. We both wanted what was best for our children. He wanted what was best for his son, giving his name and age. And he presumed I wanted what was best for my children, giving their names and ages and where they went to school. His implication was clear. He knew where my children went to school. Then he hung up.

I can empathise. I’ve had cowards directly or indirectly threaten my kids too. We know who I’m referring to.

Offit refuses to feel sorry for himself and goes on to describe in painstaking detail the circumstances surrounding the rise and fall of the two main vaccine/autism ideas: MMR and thimerosal. He paints a vivid and (in my experience) completely accurate portrait of Andrew Wakefield as a vainglorious but weak king who simply doesn’t have the courage to admit his own wrongdoing. Offit recounts an anecdote from one time Wakefield supporter, John March. The setting is a meeting between March, lawyer Richard Barr and Andrew Wakefield, called to discuss their litigation strategy.

[March]…presented his data….he told them there was no difference between the children with autism and controls, he suddenly found that the meeting had moved on to a different subject. It was a Damascene conversion for him. He realised that Wakefield could not hear negative results.

Offit (rightly) does not spare Wakefield at all. This is the man who is literally, the architect of the whole idea that vaccines cause autism. Offit quotes Wakefield in an interview with US show ’60 minutes’ in 2001:

I would have enormous regrets if [my theories] were wrong and there were complications or fatalities from measles.

In Feb this year, the Gaurdian reported:

There were 971 cases of measles in England and Wales in 2007 in contrast to 740 the previous year — a rise of over 30% and the highest jump since records began in 1995, said the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

Two teenagers have died of measles in the UK. One in 2006. One in 2008. Are there any signs of Wakefield’s profound regrets?

Offit goes on to study the thiomersal hypothesis from the beginning of the noughties to 2007 and the Cedillo hearings.

It is a strange feeling reading an account of events that you have been so intimately involved in talking about for the last five years. From the bizarre Bernard et al paper and the outright insistence of certain writers and founders of autism/anti-vaccine groups that autism was just another name for mercury poisoning, through Kathleen’s demolition of the Geier’s credibility and science, all the way to Jenny McCarthy’s Oprah showboating.

The main feeling I got was how much a lot of this was now _history_ – as Offit clearly and devastatingly argues, the science has spoken. Vaccines don’t cause autism. And as I blogged about recently, it seems pretty clear that the US public are (rightly) more concerned about the possible resurgence of killer diseases such as measles than they are to keep flogging the dead horse of autism anti-vaccinationism.

But my all time favourite part of the book was the final section. My friends were interviewed at length and the clearest feeling I had from this section was – you threw everything at us. Your money, your influence, your political power. We’re still standing. You threatened us with legal action – we’re still standing. You called us and our children names and threatened their well being. We’re still standing.

Paul Offit has written a real page-turner of a book here. One that should matter to every single autistic person and every single parent of an autistic person. Ultimately, its a book written to support autistic people. Why? because it seeks to close the door on a debate with no scientific merit. Will it do that? Possibly not, we are not dealing with rational people by and large. But what it will do is once and for all dispel the notion that ‘the parents’ who believe vaccines cause autism must be listened to solely because they are parents. Amen to that.

25 Responses to “Autism's False Prophets”

  1. farmwifetwo September 5, 2008 at 13:03 #

    I requested that the library bring it in a month ago when you first mentioned it.

    I now have to wait for them to put it in the system and I’m first on the list. Once those in our county have read it, it will be open Province wide for loan.

    Just doing my part. I will be also buying one for my collection.

  2. isles September 5, 2008 at 21:19 #

    Amen indeed! This was a book that needed writing. It shines light into some very dark corners.

  3. Joyce Herres November 29, 2008 at 04:48 #

    I read this book this weekend, it is difficult to put down and astounding how misquided the false prophets are. It is well written and puts lets the facts speak for themselves. We are living in the time of pseudo science where otherwise intellegient people believe nonsense keeping these children from getting the real help that they need. I hope more people read this with an open mind and just get the message that treatment and not cure is the realistic direction.

  4. RiceWenchie December 2, 2009 at 10:55 #

    I have personal experience with the autism spectrum disorder. Both my husband and son have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is something that they have developed independently of each other, as my son’s father didn’t come back into our lives until about 5 years ago. Our son is now 20 years old. I have always known there was something different while raising my son but was never giving any helpful direction until 3 years ago. All of the doctors that we talked to said he was lazy, unmotivated, implied that it was my fault because I didn’t do enough with him at home, blah, blah, blah.

    My point is that I have never bought into the vaccine hoopla. In my family’s case it definitely runs in our family.

  5. Ezekiel watters December 27, 2009 at 07:11 #

    To say that vaccines cause autism is a misnomer. It’s the Thimerosal (mercury) in childhood vaccines that is the problem. I don’t think that anyone is trying to reverse the practice of vaccination. They simply want to insure that mercury is no longer contained in them. There are other adequate, and far safer preservatives.

    As to whether or not mercury can cause autism consider this: There is a lipoprotein in the body associated with the removal and excretion of heavy metals. There are three variants: apoE2, apoE3, and apoE4. Apoe2 & 3 offer good protection from mercury, but apoE4 provides almost none.

    So it stands to reason that people with the apoE4 variant will likely suffer from mercury exposure. This also provides an answer to the genetic link or in other words why autism spectrum disorders seem to run in families.

    Studies have shown that people with the apoE4 variant are 15 times more likely to develop Alzheimers Disease. Could this be from years of Thimerosal containing Flu shots?

    The bottom line is that there hasn’t been any serious investigation into these possibilities. I would like to see all children with autism tested for the apoE4 variant. I think the results would shock the medical world.

  6. Chris December 27, 2009 at 08:09 #

    Ezekeil Waters:

    It’s the Thimerosal (mercury) in childhood vaccines that is the problem.

    Then it should not be problem anymore, thimerosal was removed about eight years ago, even though there is no evidence that the dose in vaccines was ever a problem. Also there are influenza vaccines without vaccines.

    Actually, there has been lots of research, and there is no evidence.

  7. Ezekiel watters December 27, 2009 at 16:07 #


    If you look into it you will find that the FDA recommended the removal of Thimerosal from childhood vaccines, but did not mandate it, and what’s worse is that they did not recall batches that already contained Thimerosal which still ended up being used on children.

    Even today the CDC admits that childhood vaccines still contain trace amounts of mercury. Why should they have any at all? When you take all this into account it looks like nothing changed after all.

    Why? Because they have to keep sweeping it all under the rug, because the class action law suits would make the tobacco company settlements look like chump change.

    The main reason that I feel so strongly about this is because I started having serious ADD-like symptoms after a mega-dose of vaccines in the military. I found out that the symptoms of mercury poisoning were an exact match for what I was experiencing so I began chelating on my own, and sure enough all my symptoms vanished.

    I think we are all making a big mistake in closing the book on the Thimerosal issue. We owe it to our children.

    Someone will surely do a follow up post and tell me that I’m dead wrong, deluded, or that I experienced a magical spontaneous remission of my symptoms undue to chelation or that it was all in my head to begin with. I have to go with what I know. Experience is the greatest teacher.

  8. Mike Stanton December 27, 2009 at 19:24 #

    Well Ezekiel,

    Are you saying that because the removal of Thiomersal was not mandated the drug companies decided to add it to the expensive new single dose vials that do not need it? Are they secretly dosing the children with Thiomersal? Why?

    As I recall the original mercury hypothesis was that the increase in Thiomersal in vaccines at the beginning of the 1990s was responsible for the rise in autism. But the UK experienced a similar rise even though our levels of exposure to Thiomersal remained the same. The removal of Thiomersal did not lead to a fall in the numbers. They have continued to rise. The removal of Thiomersal was accompanied by shortages of vaccines at the start of the century. All the old supplies were exhausted by 2002 at the latest. The trace that remains in one brand of DTaP is less than a microgram.

    Nobody here can gainsay your experience. But you are a data set of one. You are an adult not a child. You developed ADD not autism. You did not get the childhood vaccine schedule. It is difficult to see how your story has any relevance at all to the now settled controversy about thiomersal containing vaccines and children.

  9. Chris December 27, 2009 at 20:53 #

    Ezekial, you have made it quite clear you have not read the book that this posting is about, where the whole debacle on thimerosal gets its own chapter. There should be copies at your local library, I suggest you check out a copy and read it. That way you will not embarrass yourself in the comments again.

  10. Ezekiel watters December 27, 2009 at 21:05 #

    I wasn’t aware that they are switching to single dose vials. Is this true? Every child will now get vaccines from single dose vials? That’s a good thing if it’s true.

    In your second paragraph you talk about how autism rates continue to rise. Let’s say it’s not from Thimerosal. It’s certainly possible. I’m no scientist so maybe I am dead wrong. Accepting that, we still have quite a mystery here don’t we? Here we have a supposed genetic illness that continues to rise in prevalence to near epidemic levels: 1 in 166 children last I checked which is substantial. Now, I’m not Charles Darwin, but it is my understanding that mammals with negative mutations or diseases tend not to make suitable mating partners resulting in a decrease of their kind over time and yet the opposite is happening with autism. How can you have a genetic epidemic? Doesn’t an epidemic require some causative agent in the environment? What could it be? All I ever here from the CDC is that they believe it to be genetic in nature. What if the key is a genetic susceptibility to something in the environment. That would bring everything into perspective and make sense right? In which case looking at adjuvants and preservatives in vaccines is logical and to be expected. The CDC’s position that autism is probably genetic, but continually on the rise just doesn’t make sense.

    And as for my case, I was only making comparison with autism spectrum disorders which are said to include ADD and ADHD type disorders as well. I was making a case for one person who was able to reverse similar symptoms, and there are more like me. You can find them at

    I really don’t want to argue with anybody about this, I just had an opinion and a few ideas to share. Have a nice day!

  11. Ezekiel watters December 27, 2009 at 21:56 #

    To Chris:

    I don’t feel embarrassed. People disagree. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. You are right though: I haven’t read the book. There have been other books written on this subject with the opposite stance. It would not be nice for me to tell you not to embarrass yourself because you haven’t read “Evidence of Harm”. I tell you what, I will read this book, because I want to learn all that I can on this subject, and you can’t accomplish that by reading just one book. Have you read any other books on the subject? It’s been my experience that you can read five books on any given subject and get five different viewpoints. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

  12. Mike Stanton December 27, 2009 at 22:15 #


    single dose vials were introduced following an agreement between the vaccine manufacturers, the American Association of Pediatrics and the US Public Health Service in 1999. Between 1999 and 2002 at the latest all stocks of thiomersal containing vaccines in the childhood schedule were exhausted and replaced by single dose vials that do not contain thiomersal.

    The rates are rising because we now include the whole autistic spectrum and not just the most severe cases. The diagnostic criteria have changed over time. Awareness and training has improved. Education services have been mandated to record autism as a category of special educational need.

    I live in the UK. Our National Autistic Society estimated that the true rate of autism spectrum disorders was closer to 1 in 100 back in the 1990s. They did this by combining studies of autistic children in special education (1 in 500) with previously undiagnosed children in mainstream schools with normal intelligence (4 in 500). Modern prevalence figures in the UK and the USA are now reflecting that reality.

    I do not want to argue either. I am just correcting the false information that seems to inform your ideas.

  13. Ezekiel Watters December 27, 2009 at 23:15 #

    To Mike Stanton:

    Okay, you’ve sold me. I don’t want to carry around a head full of false ideas. I just received a Barnes & Noble gift certificate for X-mas so I’ll buy the book.

    Tell me one thing though: if the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders is closer to 1 in 100, that is awfully high. What is the best current theory for what is causing all this? I’m just curious; maybe too curious. I suppose that curiosity may have led me down some wrong paths.

  14. Mike Stanton December 27, 2009 at 23:27 #


    It has probably always been that high. My theory is that the rapid rate of change and the complexity of modern society mean that it is more apparent rather than more prevalent. Dyslexia is another modern condition. When most people were illiterate who was to know?

    I hope you enjoy Dr Offit’s book.

  15. Ezekiel Watters December 27, 2009 at 23:44 #


    Thanks for the info.


  16. David N. Brown December 28, 2009 at 01:34 #

    “they did not recall batches that already contained Thimerosal which still ended up being used on children.”
    An important point to note: Any remaining batches of these vaccines would have long since have expired, and could have been returned for a full refund. Some wrongly assume that they are or could be still available for use, which reminds me of a legend/joke about Twinkies all being made in one batch.

  17. Chris December 28, 2009 at 01:35 #


    It would not be nice for me to tell you not to embarrass yourself because you haven’t read “Evidence of Harm”.

    Except I have, at the library. Lately though, the copy of that book is no longer at the library, thought there are more copies of Dr. Offit’s book.

    It was quite obvious you had not read the book, due to the statements you were making. I am sorry if I was rude, but I am very glad to see you are willing to correct that oversight (by the way, his other books are also interesting from “The Cutter Incident”, which is how a vaccine was mis-manufactured and caused death and injury, and “Vaccinated”, a biography of a man responsible for several vaccines — it includes all the blemishes of the industry, including the testing of vaccines on disabled children in institutions).

    Other suggested books to read, you may be sorry you asked for that. I have been reading up on disabilities, vaccines, diseases, neurology, and science since my son had his first seizure over twenty-one years ago. I actually keep a list of the books in a spreadsheet (oh, and really, the library is a great place to get books that you will only read once, use the book store gift certificate for something you will continue to use like a cookbook or a book on a hobby like gardening, woodwork, etc). One good resource is at , but here is a short list of books I have read:

    Unstrange Minds by Roy Grinker (see his webpage, especially on the changing of the diagnostic criteria, )

    Not Even Wrong by Paul Collins (a parent of an autistic child, who goes into the history of the syndrome, unfortunately my library no longer has it)

    Any book by Oliver Sacks (a neurologist who dwells on the various types of brain disorders, I have read all of his books, I really enjoyed his autobiography “Uncle Tungsten, Memories of a Chemical Childhood”… Robin Williams played him the movie “Awakenings”)

    The Science and Fiction of Autism by Laura Schreibman

    Vaccine by Arthur Allen

    A brief tour of human consciousness : from imposter poodles to purple numbers by V. S. Ramachandran

    Aquamarine blue 5 : personal stories of college students with autism edited by Dawn Prince-Hughes

    The Elephant in the Playroom: Ordinary Parents Write Intimately and Honestly About Raising Kids with Special Needs edited by Denise Brodey

    Now here is a book to help you evaluate how to deal with all the controversial subjects: Lies, Damned Lies, and Science: How to Sort through the Noise around Global Warming, the Latest Health Claims, and Other Scientific Controversies by Sherry Seethaler

    There are a couple of good fiction books that are useful:
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

    The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (who has a son with autism, and a blog about the book and autism)

    Have fun.

    Oh, another suggestion: I have found it handy sometimes to listen to audio books as wmv files (and lately mp3 for iPods). Many library systems let you download audio books from a website for free. This is what I did for Oliver Sacks’ latest book “Musicphilia”, and another fictional book on a child who was sent to an institution for Down Syndrome, except the nurse who was given the task decided to raise her instead, “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” (which is what I listened to while in lines at Disneyland last year).

  18. David N. Andrews M. Ed., C. P. S. E. December 28, 2009 at 07:57 #

    “My theory is that the rapid rate of change and the complexity of modern society mean that it is more apparent rather than more prevalent. Dyslexia is another modern condition. When most people were illiterate who was to know?”

    Indeed. Basically, a socio-cultural approach. As culture becomes more reliant on textual production and storage of its knowledge, it becomes more reliant on the skills involved in reading and writing, and this places emphasis on the teaching and learning of these skills. When these skills were not ordinarily needed, there was no emphasis on learning them and so there could be no problem with learning them: there was no dyslexia, regardless of the existence of the kinds of neuro-developmental issues that contribute to its aetiology in literate societies. There was no dyslexia because there was no problem… good example to demonstrate the contribution that culture makes to any sort of developmental, learning or educational difficulty (and, indeed, to anything that might be considered to be a psychopathology). THis is the approach I took when doing the work for my CPSE.

  19. Ezekiel Watters December 28, 2009 at 08:23 #


    Thanks for the list of suggested reading material. Some of your selections look very interesting. I actually read one of V.S. Ramachandran’s books titled “Phantoms in the Brain” -a very good read. I’m a voracious reader so I’ll probably tackle a few of your suggestions.

    Happy Holidays!

  20. Chris December 28, 2009 at 09:16 #


    I’m a voracious reader so I’ll probably tackle a few of your suggestions.

    Then we will get along just fine!


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