Saturday, March 14, 2009

Vaccine-Autism War: CBC Dirties Itself, Advocates Censorship of Vaccine and Autism Discussions

There was a day when I looked to the CBC as the shining example of what modern journalism should entail. That day is gone, long gone. Now the CBC has dirtied itself with an incompetent, one sided presentation of the vaccine autism debate and an express call for censorship of public health debates, specifically the vaccine-autism debate.

Autism, the raison d' être for this blog site, was once covered very well by the CBC as witnessed by David Suzuki's outstanding 1996 Nature of Things feature on autism, The Child Who Couldn't Play:


The Child Who Couldn't Play (Autism) - a program that closely investigated autism and explored some avenues for treatment for young children with this condition. The program generated a substantial amount of interest from viewers - especially from parents of autistic children, eager for more information and relieved that the subject of autism was entering the public forum.

Now it offers repeated promotion of the "autism is beautiful ideology" in appearances by Dr. Laurent Mottron and Michelle Dawson and other persons with very high functioning autism and Aspergers on Quirks and Quarks and Positively Autistic. I have yet to see a recent CBC feature on the severely autistic children like my son, or those who injure themselves or reside in institutional care.

The CBC has sunk to an all time journalism low though with its express , and one sided advocacy, of censorship of the vaccine autism debates in Linking vaccines, autism tantamount to crying 'fire' where there isn't one, an article written by Stephen Strauss, whose"bio" somewhat oddly claims that "he still remains smitten by the enduring wisdom of the motto of Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Say what is." In "linking vaccines" Mr Strauss most definitely did NOT "say what is". Quite the contrary:

"In the interest of public health, and medical truth, and the emotional well-being of autism sufferers everywhere, the legal system should declare that promoting the vaccine/autism hypothesis is the modern equivalent of falsely crying "fire" in a crowded theatre.

Mr. Strauss argues that alleging a vaccine autism link is analogous to yelling fire in a crowded theater, an image often used to demonstrate one of the limits to free speech, uttering knowingly false statements which are reasonably foreseeable to result in harm to others. Mr. Strauss's example is misguided. The vaccine autism debate does not involve knowingly false statements. Far from it the issues involved are more complex and very much debatable.

Some very credible scientists and health authorities have indicated that the question of vaccines as possible causes or contributors to autism is an open question. Dr. Bernadine Healy, the former NIH and American Red Cross head, has twice stated that the question remains open, that the epidemiological studies relied on in support of vaccine safety are not particular enough to determine the impact of vaccines on more vulnerable population subsets. She has called for more studies to be done.

Dr. Julie Gerberding recent CDC director has also stated in connection with the vaccine autism debate that more studies COULD and SHOULD be done on the issue. A person of such high authority and credibility does not call for more studies to be done just for the hell of it. Dr. Gerberding has, amongst other things, pointed out that studies should look at autism rates in unvaccinated populations.

Perhaps Mr Strauss and the CBC are also unaware of the information found by CBS which, unlike the CBC and Mr. Strauss, actually examined some of the evidence on the "other" side of the vaccine debate and included in its reporting an interview with Dr. Healy in which she stated clearly her views that the vaccine autism connection is still an open question. CBS has also investigated and found more than a 1000 cases that have been settled before going to a decision. When cases are settled in favor of the plaintiff they accomplish the defendant government's goal of limiting their availability for use as legal precedents - or in public discussion of the issues involved.

As recently as last month an award was made to a child, Baily Banks, based on a 2007 vaccine court decision in which the court ruled in favor of the plaintiff's claim that the MMR vaccine caused brain injury resulting in autism in the plaintiff child. If Mr Strauss, or his "research assistants", if he has any, happen across this humble blog, the link to the Banks decision can be found at 2007 Banks v HHS.

The CBC and Mr. Strauss might also consider reading The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee Strategic Plan for Autism Spectrum Disorder Research - January 26, 2009. In that document the IACC states, somewhat curiously if the issue of a vaccine autism connection has in fact been conclusively decided, that:

To address public concerns regarding a possible vaccine/ASD link, it will be important over the next year for the IACC to engage the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC) in mutually informative dialogues. The NVAC is a Federal advisory committee chartered to advise and make recommendations regarding the National Vaccine Program. Communication between the IACC and NVAC will permit each group to be informed by the expertise of the other, enhance coordination and foster more effective use of research resources on topics of mutual interest. Examples of such topics include: studies of the possible role of vaccines, vaccine components, and multiple vaccine administration in ASD causation and severity through a variety of approaches; and assessing the feasibility and design of an epidemiological study to determine whether health outcomes, including ASD, differ among populations with vaccinated, unvaccinated, and alternatively vaccinated groups.

One further suggestion to inform the next rant by Mr Strauss or the CBC on possible vaccine autism connections. They should review the public information available on the Poling case ,one of the settlements which found that vaccines aggravated a girl's mitochondrial disorder resulting in "autism like symptoms", one of the weasel expressions used in place of "autism" in settlements. In addition Mr. Strauss should read the editorial by Dr. Jon Poling, the child's father, in yesterday's Atlanta Journal Constitution:

Fortunately, the ‘better diagnosis’ myth has been soundly debunked. In the 2009 issue of Epidemiology, two authors analyzed 1990 through 2006 California Department of Developmental Services and U.S. Census data documenting an astronomical 700 to 800 percent rise in the disorder.

These scientists concluded that only a smaller percentage of this staggering rise can be explained by means other than a true increase.

Because purely genetic diseases do not rise precipitously, the corollary to a true autism increase is clear — genes only load the gun and it is the environment that pulls the trigger. Autism is best redefined as an environmental disease with genetic susceptibilities.

We should be investing our research dollars into discovering environmental factors that we can change, not more poorly targeted genetic studies that offer no hope of early intervention. Pesticides, mercury, aluminum, several drugs, dietary factors, infectious agents and yes — vaccines — are all in the research agenda.

Before Mr. Strauss and CBC dismiss Dr. Poling contemptuously as another hysterical, misguided parent, they should be informed that he is also a neurologist and an assistant professor at the Medical College of Georgia. And the CBC's omniscient smearers of concerned parents should also remember that the government backed down in the case of Dr. Poling's daughter and settled.

In the interest of public health, and medical truth, and the emotional well-being of parents fighting to help their autistic children, and in the further interest of their own journalistic credibility, the CBC should withdraw the call for censorship made on its site and cease publishing such incendiary columns by ill informed, lightweight dilettantes like Mr Stephen Strauss.

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1 comment:

Marni Wachs said...

Thanks Harold, as always, getting to the heart of the issue, and in this case "issues" as the author actually is advocating dictatorship-esque limitations on the right to free speech.

Here is the link.

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