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The past is present (non autism related post)

5 Jan

Kev has recently discussed the book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All. Besides discussing the dangers the movement poses in its current form, Dr. Offit puts the anti-vaccine movement into historical perspective.

Ever since there was vaccination, there was a resistance to the practice. One of the easiest hooks is to discuss the ingredients. In the case of the original vaccine (which used the cowpox virus to protect humans against smallpox), the target was clear: it comes from cows. One of the more famous images was a cartoon made by James Gillray, showing people growing cow parts after vaccination (click image to enlarge):

It’s so 19th century. Or, is it?

I wasn’t aware of this image (or didn’t remember it) before I read the book. I was taken aback by the similarity to recent imagery used to frighten people about the rotavirus vaccine. If you recall, fragments of a pig virus were found in one of the rotavirus vaccine brands. This was a time for a reasoned, serious discussion. Was there potential for these virus fragments to be harmful? (as it turns out, the virus does not infect humans. It is even found in the fecal matter of humans who have recently eaten pig products).

Here’s one image:

Yeah, kinda cute and funny. The text of the post has headings like “Rotavirus Vaccines Use Monkey, Cow, Pig Materials for Production” and, for some odd reason, “Using Cancer Cells to Produce Vaccines? ” What this has to do with pig virus fragments in rotavirus vaccine is beyond me. The post goes on to link to a video by Barbara Loe Fisher, who discusses “fatal pig viruses”. Fatal to infant pigs, yes. Fatal to humans, no. But, Ms. Fisher doesn’t make that distinction.

Here’s another image, this time from the Age of Autism blog:

There is room for a real vaccine safety movement. In fact, vaccine safety advocates have been successful in creating real change. Dr. Offit makes this clear in his book. But scaring people with these images isn’t helping anyone.

Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

4 Jan

I mentioned in a previous post that I was reading Deadly Choices and used it as the basis for a post on how much of a myth the idea of there being ‘mild’ diseases is.

I’ve (literally) just finished reading the book so I want to give it a review. I should be clear up front, I liked the book very much and I like Paul Offit too so you’re not going to find much negativity here.

The book is a clear and coherent look back at the roots of the modern anti-vaccine movement (mostly in the US but we get a sadly necessary large mention too), its leading proponents and figures. It also swings up to the modern day and looks at the contemporary anti-vaxxers such as Jenny McCarthy etc.

Sadly (from my point of view) it makes the role of modern day anti-vaccinationism clear: its mainly due to the confluence of vaccines and autism that has given rise to a politically motivated type of anti-vaxxer. To give examples we’re all familiar with its like when an out n out anti-vaxxer like the owner of the website became friends with the leaders of Generation Rescue that the initial overlap first occurred – first they borrowed material from each other then they become supporters of each other and now they follow the common goal of destroying the vaccine program in the West. That might sound a little over the top but its nonetheless true. Ask any anti-vaxxer what their goal is and that goal will be the eradication of vaccines.

Offit’s book is also a study of some of the incidents where vaccines _have_ been at fault and details how these rare occurrences are used to chronicle the side effects of vaccines and direct future safety testing. The first few chapters of the book make it clear just how important some of these tragic incidents have been to today’s safety testing. Another upcoming book that tackles this subject is Seth Monookin’s The Panic Virus and of course Offit’s own book The Cutter Incident details one such incident in great detail.

According to Offit himself:

I wrote this book for children; Deadly Choices is an attempt to stand up for them. A child’s vaccination decisions are made by his or her parents. If an adult chooses not to be vaccinated from Hepatitis B and she dies, that was her own choice to not be vaccinated. What bothers me is that children aren’t making that choice. Who represents the children?

And he’s absolutely right. In the same vein, whilst Deadly Choices is not an autism book per se, it should be the responsibility of the autism community to spread its message far and wide, partly because its the right thing to do and partly because its the modern day autism community that has spearheaded and led the contemporary anti-vaccine message. We have some wrongs to right.

Deadly Choices: The myth of the mild disease

29 Dec

I’ve started reading Deadly Choices and goodness me its a breath of fresh air in terms of factual analysis and also writing skill. The last autism book I read was Age of Autism so you’ll appreciate how great the difference is.

I’ll be blogging about Deadly Choices a fair bit I guess and I guess Sullivan will too (after all he is Bonnie Offit) and in this first blog post I want to discuss why the idea that certain illnesses are perceived (and indeed promoted) by the anti-vaccine lobby as mild and therefore of no risk – just another excuse to stick us all with another needle containing who knows what!!

The book Deadly Choices, makes this point crystal clear in the Introduction. Regarding a Hib outbreak in Minnesota:

[parents]…were afraid that vaccines contained dangerous additives, or that children received too many vaccines too soon; or that vaccines caused autism

…one mother reconsidered her decision: ” the doctor looked at me and said, ‘Your son is going to die, he doesn’t have much time.’ Honestly, I never really understood how severe the risk [was] that we put our son at.”

Deadly choices indeed.

And what about mumps? In 2009, an outbreak caused by an unvaccinated traveller coming back from England caused a chain reaction that infected over 1500 people in 8 months. The end result?

When it was over, mumps was found to have caused pancreatitis, meningitis, deafness, facial paralysis or inflammation of the ovaries in sixty-five people, nineteen were hospitalised.

Hib and mumps are just two of the diseases previously easily controlled by vaccines that are now becoming rampant again due to poor vaccination rates and the fact that such deadly and crippling diseases are now just a plane ride away.

Christmas break reading list

29 Dec

Mine is too big (pages and content, not number of books), and a good chunk of Christmas break has already past. That said, I set a goal for myself to read more books. And to read better books. Reading “The Age of Autism” and “Callous Disregard” had some small value. It is good to challenge one’s ideas. But these books are just poorly done and poorly written. I figured it’s time to devote some time to something that could be a bit of a benefit in education, entertainment or both.

The two main books on my shelf right now are
The Developing Human. Clinically Oriented Embryology“.


Send in the Idiots

The first was suggested to me when I expressed an interest in learning more about human development, especially very early development and the brain. I got a copy very cheap, somewhat used. As long as I was perusing used books, I picked up a copy of “Send in the Idiots” as well. That one is new, with the exception of the tag put on it by the used bookstore. Send in the Idiots has been in the back of my mind since I heard the author interviewed on the NPR program “Fresh Air”.

Another book on my shelf, which will come as no surprise, is “Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All”. This is Paul Offit’s new book. I’ve read that already and will be discussing it here on LeftBrainRightBrain soon.

While I feel like I should be virtuous and read “The Developing Human”, I started on “Send in the Idiots” first. I don’t know if I will finish anything before I head back to work, but if I finish that I will write about it here.

Reading Age of Autism – All I can handle, I’m no Vladimir Nabokov

13 Nov

I read Dan Olmsted’s latest post on Age of Autism and was reminded I had yet to publish a closing post on my experiences with the book. Here’s a quote from Dan:

It’s doubly disappointing to see traditionally progressive outlets – from Salon to Daily Kos to The Atlantic to National Public Radio and PBS – ignore the evidence presented in our book and so many other places, twist the facts they can’t deny, belittle those who believe otherwise including beleaguered autism parents, and glibly trumpet tired reassurances that the concern over vaccines has been “asked and answered,” that “study after study” has refuted any relation, and that continuing to point out disturbing patterns of evidence to the contrary endangers children and infants.

Quick translation for you: “Waaah, nobody liked our book or thought it was valid. What a bunch of pooh-pooh heads!”

The embarrassing truth for Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill is that their book has been still-born. Take a look at the Amazon rankings compiled by Broken Link and its hard to come to any other conclusion. But why has this happened?

First off, the book is badly written. Its not an easy read in the way that Evidence of Harm was. Of course the style is different but Age of Autism is not even a well written poor story.

Secondly, the content is – well – embarrassingly one sided. Whilst B & O claim to be not anti-vaccine, the whole book – particularly part II is rife with anti-vaccine sentiments designed not so much to lead the reader to a conclusion but to batter the reader over the head with the conclusion B & O reached before sitting down to write even.

Thirdly, the content is old hat. There is literally nothing new in the book. For those of us who have followed the the whole story, AoA has nothing _new_ to add to the overall scenario. Whereas Defeating Autism, Autism’s False Prophets and Evidence of Harm all had something _new_ to add to the story, AoA merely dully repeats truthiness from 3 or 4 years ago and couples it with a retelling of historical speculation that simply reiterates what everyone already knew – mercury isn’t so good for you.

So thats that for me reading purgatory. I’m reading something very much better now that I think Sullivan and I will be blogging at length in the new year.

Autism-vaccine books, an indication that the tide has turned?

13 Nov

We recently discussed here on LeftbrainRightBrain two books, both due out in January. The first, The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear, is by a new name to the discussion, Seth Mnookin. The second book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, is by Dr. Paul Offit, a name well known in the autism/vaccine discussion.

With these two books due out in the near future, it is only natural to look back at the recent past. I am thinking of two other books on autism and vaccines, Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill’s “The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-made Epidemic“, and Andrew Wakefield’s “Callous Disregard: Autism and Vaccines: The Truth Behind a Tragedy. Both of these books continue the old story of autism caused by mercury in vaccines and autism caused by the MMR vaccine. There is really no new science and there never was much in the first place. Sure, Age of Autism tries to apply their same “correlation is causation” arguments about mercury to other medical conditions in history, but that isn’t science. Callous Disregard is more about Andrew Wakefield’s excuses for his own misdeeds than about the science anyway. The books have been given a lukewarm reception by their target audience (neither has really sold in large numbers, and the trends are clear that the books are selling through the promotion by “friendly” blogs and book signings). Even Dan Olmsted himself recently blogged about how the formerly friendly press is now ignoring his book.

Jenny McCarthy has moved on, at least for now. The same can be said for David Kirby (but he is still giving appearances at autism-parent conventions as some sort of expert.) But, the days when Evidence of Harm: Mercury in Vaccines and the Autism Epidemic: A Medical Controversy could hit the New York Times best seller list are in the past.

This isn’t about some sense of schadenfreude or an “our author’s books are doing better than your author’s books” sort of competition. Rather, this is a time to ask (once again), has the tide turned? Do two flops tell us that the heyday of the movement over?

Sure, there will always be a SafeMinds and a Generation Rescue out there pushing the idea of a vaccine-induced autism epidemic. But one researcher I know has told me that vaccines just aren’t even coming up as a point of discussion any more. Not in conferences (the real kind, not the parent-convention kind). Not even in public lectures.

Has the tide turned? I hope so. I really do.

Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All

13 Nov

I recently wrote about the book, Panic Virus, which is set to come out in January, 2011. Another book which includes sections on the autism/vaccine story is also scheduled for January: Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, by Paul Offit.

The “product description” is very brief:

How did we get to a place where vaccines are viewed with horror rather than as life-saving medicine? The answer is rooted in one of the most powerful and disturbing citizen activist movements in our nation’s history—a movement that, despite recent epidemics and deaths, continues to grow. Deadly Choices is the story of anti-vaccine activity in America—its origins, leaders, influences, and impact—and is a powerful defense of science in the face of fear.

While the word “autism” doesn’t appear at all on the page for the book, it will come as no surprise that the autism/vaccine parent groups play a prominent role in the book’s discussion of the modern anti-vaccine movement.

Dr. Offit’s books get read. By important people. I have little doubt this one will too.

As I said with my discussion of Panic Virus, there is no joy in realizing that some of the vocal autism-parent groups are being chronicled in this way. There is, however, relief that books such as these signal that perhaps the worst is over. The public and the press are no longer giving the idea of the vaccine-induced-autism-epidemic the credibility it enjoyed only a year or two ago.