Autism Speaks founder Bob Wright’s opinion is more important than science

24 Sep

Last year the Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks made a simple and clear statement

“Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.”

It was nice to finally see someone from Autism Speaks make a clear statement without a lot of equivocation and “leave the door open” language.

But what I think is nice and what Bob Wright, the founder of Autism Speaks, thinks is nice are two different things.  The Wright family is, at least, sympathetic to the idea that vaccines cause autism (and, in at least one case, very outspoken on the idea.)  So perhaps I should have been surprised when Autism Speaks put on their website Rob Ring’s statement together with a statement by Bob Wright.

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.
Rob Ring
Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks
Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually  made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.
Bob Wright
Co-founder, Autism Speaks
Because why should we let the Chief Science Officer have the actual word on what Autism Speaks thinks about an issue of science?  Why let a clear statement stand alone when one can leave the door open with “Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines.”
And that was sad.  A sad move by Autism Speaks.  A sad move by Bob Wright.
But I’ve already written about that.  Why bring it up again now?  Well, because a reader here alerted me to the fact that Bob Wright and Autism Speaks have expunged the statement by their science officer. If one now goes to https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/policy-statements/information-about-vaccines-and-autism, one finds only Bob Wright’s statement:
AS backpedals on vaccines
I so want Autism Speaks to be an organization I could support.  And sometimes they seem to be moving in that direction.  But, in the end, they are still clinging to ideas like “vaccines cause autism”, ideas that cause a lot of harm within the autism communities.  And they also take a very stigmatizing approach to the discussion of autism, but that is another discussion.

Autism Speaks pretends to be a science driven organization, but they just aren’t.  The founder is the founder and his opinion means more than the results of scientific studies as expressed by their own Chief Science Officer.

By Matt Carey
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19 Responses to “Autism Speaks founder Bob Wright’s opinion is more important than science”

  1. brian September 25, 2015 at 02:05 #

    It must be difficult for nonscientists to appreciate the scientific evidence.

    In an interesting paper that was published yesterday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the authors support their earlier work by showing that extremely rare but exceptionally disruptive de novo mutations (mutations that arise during the development of either the sperm or egg that combine to form the individual) account for about HALF of autism cases. The authors noted that many of these mutations occur in genes that are expressed long before birth—and before vaccination.

    The authors also note that the ASD risk from transmission of mutations from a parent (usually this involves transmission by the mother of a mutation in her own genome, since females are “protected” against ASD and are therefore more able to transmit it to their offspring) roughly equals the risk from de novo mutations.

    Perhaps Dr. Ring can explain to Mr. Wright why this work further undermines the failed hypothesis that vaccines cause autism, while noting that the authors focused on a special, extremely disruptive class of mutations while intentionally ignoring all other genetic determinants of ASD; this is like looking at only exceptionally disruptive automobile problems (e.g., blown head gaskets) while ignoring all less severe problems that can affect the normal operation of a car. (Nevertheless: HALF.)

    Issosifov I et al. Low load for disruptive mutations in autism genes and their biased Transmission. PNAS; published ahead of print. September 23, 2015.

    • wzrd1 September 25, 2015 at 03:09 #

      Well, there is one way that vaccines relate to autism. If a child died of a vaccine communicable disease, the child could never have his or her autism diagnosed.

      I’ll even add that there is one vaccine in rather uncommon usage that is extremely dangerous. The only reason it was ever used in the first place was the approximately 1/3 morbidity and mortality rate from the disease it protected against. Vaccinia, the smallpox vaccine.
      The reason it’s fallen out of common usage is because smallpox is extinct in the wild, with only a sparse few research centers retaining viral samples. The only people to receive that vaccine are public health workers who travel to developing nations, giving protection against camelpox and monkeypox and the military, who may face weaponized smallpox.

      But, that is just being a wise guy, while still remaining entirely factual.
      But, in all of the comment, nary a notion of harm actually occurring from any vaccine, other than smallpox vaccine.
      For the truth is, being vaccinated means not contracting a vaccine preventable disease and well, nobody would’ve bothered making a vaccine against one of those diseases if deaths and disability did not occur from those diseases.

      Oh, folks, it’s cooling off and soon, we’ll all be indoors for the winter.
      Wash your hands. Then, wash them again. Norovirus is already making the rounds, which for a healthy person makes for a bad few days, for the young and elderly, it can be lethal.
      Influenza will also be making the rounds soon, so keep washing those hands and get the flu shot. It isn’t the most effective vaccine, but it beats absolutely no protection at all.
      Oh, did I mention wash your hands?

  2. wzrd1 September 25, 2015 at 02:50 #

    Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has shown there is no relationship between autism and vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools, as well as possible legal issues due to that decision.

    There, I fixed it for you, Bob.

  3. Julian Frost September 25, 2015 at 06:59 #

    Bob Wright and Autism Speaks have expunged the statement by their science officer.

    Disgraceful. That’s all I have to say.

  4. Brian Deer September 25, 2015 at 08:11 #

    I think it’s basically the same story as with James MacNeil, who you will recall essentially ended a distinguished career with a sleazy and evasive program about vaccines. Like him, Bob Wright has a daughter who fell under the spell of the charlatan Wakefield, and an autistic grandchild.

    So, if either man wants to sustain a relationship with a grandchild, they’d better keep it sweet with the intermediate family member. It’s probably the most serious conflict of interest possible in this area of science, but it’s hard to formulate.

    Maybe: “Bob Wright declares the competing interest of an autistic grandson who he hopes to see at Christmas, so he’d doesn’t want to piss off his daughter.”

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) September 25, 2015 at 18:09 #

      I think you mean Robert MacNeil.

      It was a bad ending to an excellent career. MacNeil gave a platform, lending his name and credibility, to ideas and people who didn’t deserve it.

      • Roger Kulp September 25, 2015 at 22:36 #

        This page is still on the Autism Speaks web site.
        https://www.autismspeaks.org/science/science-news/new-meta-analysis-confirms-no-association-between-vaccines-and-autism

        Autism Speaks position about many things,not only vaccines,has been very confusing to say they least.As an organization,they seem to want to take all sides of every issue.You cannot do that,and maintain credibility.One can’t help but wonder what sort of conflicts have going on behind the scenes at Autism Speaks over the issue of vaccines.Is Rob Ring still working for Autism Speaks?

        In an ideal world,Autism Speaks would use both its prominence,and at least some of the large corporate donations it gets to promote both the fact vaccines are safe,and childhood disease prevention,but there are those on the board of AS who would never allow this.I would LOVE to see AS reach out to someone like Dr. Richard Pan or Dr. Paul Offit and offer them a place on their board,but we know that isn’t likely to happen.

  5. Science Mom September 26, 2015 at 02:54 #

    @ Roger Kulp, it would also be nice if they would have autistic representation on their board. That is also a huge problem with A$

  6. Ken September 26, 2015 at 06:33 #

    I’m hesitant to point this out because I do not want to take the chance that it was a oversight which they will correct as a result of my comment, but the original statement can still be found on their FAQ page. Under the “Are vaccines to blame?” heading, the original, unequivocal wording can be found.

  7. John Elder Robison March 30, 2016 at 23:52 #

    With all the millions of dollars raised by Autism Speaks – much of it from families of modest means and a stake in autism – it saddens me to see how little the Wrights opinions seem to have changed despite all that money, and all the research and advertisements and executives it bought.

    I sure do feel like I wasted my time.

    • Sullivan (Matt Carey) March 31, 2016 at 05:00 #

      John,

      I spoke with a researcher who was in on some of your meetings. Said researcher made it very clear to me that you had a positive impact.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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    […] Autism Speaks founder Bob Wright's opinion is more important than science The Wright family is, at least, sympathetic to the idea that vaccines cause autism (and, in at least one case, very outspoken on the idea.) So perhaps I should have been surprised when Autism Speaks put on their website Rob Ring's statement together … Read more on Left Brain Right Brain […]

  2. The Republican Party is on the verge of nominating an antivaccine loon named Donald Trump – Respectful Insolence - May 3, 2016

    […] money and ultimately led to a schism in the group. As recently as last September, Bob Wright was using the same sort of weasel words that Emken used. It’s useful to note that the scientific advisor’s statement […]

  3. Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, has died | autismjungle - July 31, 2016

    […] Wright responded with a stilted and ambiguous comment. Then in 2015, Ring’s refutation was expunged altogether from the Autism Speaks website. This was more than five years after Wakefield had been exposed as a […]

  4. I’m a disabled American. Trump’s policies will be a disaster for people like me. – Jalvis News - November 9, 2016

    […] Bob Wright, the founder of the powerful and often reviled Autism Speaks charity (who is known for his own anti-vaccine leanings), tweeted his enthusiastic support in April. Now that Trump is poised to take the presidency, he […]

  5. Congratulations, America! You’ve just elected a conspiracy-mongering scientific ignoramus as President! – Respectful Insolence - November 10, 2016

    […] money and ultimately led to a schism in the group. As recently as last September, Bob Wright was using the same sort of weasel words that Emken used. It’s useful to note that the scientific advisor’s statement […]

  6. I’m a disabled American. Trump’s policies will be a disaster for people like me: – redlegagenda - November 11, 2016

    […] Bob Wright, the founder of the powerful and often reviled Autism Speaks charity (who is known for his own anti-vaccine leanings), tweeted his enthusiastic support in April. Now that Trump is poised to take the presidency, he […]

  7. Congratulations, America! You’ve just elected a conspiracy-mongering scientific ignoramus as President! [Respectful Insolence] - November 11, 2016

    […] money and ultimately led to a schism in the group. As recently as last September, Bob Wright was using the same sort of weasel words that Emken used. It’s useful to note that the scientific advisor’s statement […]

  8. An open letter to William Shatner on autism awareness | Left Brain Right Brain - April 3, 2017

    […] Here’s the thing–Bob Wright vetoed that message. First he put his own message up together with Dr. Ring’s. Then he disappeared Ring’s message. […]

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