Thursday, March 03, 2011

Vaccine Autism War: Roy R. Grinker Ph. D. Omits Inconvenient Names in Book Review/Diatribe

Roy R. Grinker Ph. D. has published a review of Seth Mnookin's "The Panic Virus" in  The American Journal of Psychiatry in which he repeats the Mnookin's  blaming of the "democratization of science" and the public discussion of autism causation by celebrities and, of course, Dr. Andrew Wakefield, for compromising "herd immunity" resulting in the re-emergence of serious diseases.  In a review dripping with arrogance and condescension towards other, less educated, parents of children with autism disorders, Professor Grinker adopts Mnookin's opinions and  points out that Americans, particularly celebrities and parents, lack the intelligence to understand science and fall prey to ill informed bloggers and conspiracy theorists:

The typical reader does not necessarily understand how to discriminate between or evaluate the validity of different sources. For many Internet users, a blogger's opinion and a peer-reviewed scientific article may have equal weight. The Internet thus empowers conspiracy theorists as well as fringe researchers who carry out junk science and disseminate research results and interpretations favorable to the antivaccine movement.


Mnookin is particularly strong when describing the classic problem in science education: that science often moves methodically and produces results that are unacceptable to lay audiences in need of clear, simple answers. Indeed, the fear of vaccines continues to be fueled by scientists' inability to satisfy parents' concerns about the etiology of autism as well as by the incremental nature of science itself. As scientists conduct more research, they posit more hypotheses; each hypothesis introduces another level of uncertainty and raises another theoretical possibility. Scientists are trained to accept uncertainty, but the typical parent with an autistic child is not. In other words, the antivaccine advocates want something science will never be able to provide: expeditious and total proof, as opposed to the preponderance of the evidence, and single as opposed to multifactorial causes. Mnookin knows that the best science is rarely as convincing as the words of friends, neighbors, and anecdotes. The Panic Virus is a superb case study in the crisis of science in a democratic society.

Professor Grinker omits some names in his review of those who have expressed concerns about possible vaccine autism links or the need to conduct research to explore possible connections:

Dr. Bernadine Healy, Former Head of the NIH,  CBS Interview, May 12, 2008

"I think that the public health officials have been too quick to dismiss the hypothesis as irrational," Healy said.

"But public health officials have been saying they know, they've been implying to the public there's enough evidence and they know it's not causal," Attkisson said.

"I think you can't say that," Healy said. "You can't say that."

Healy goes on to say public health officials have intentionally avoided researching whether subsets of children are “susceptible” to vaccine side effects - afraid the answer will scare the public.

"You're saying that public health officials have turned their back on a viable area of research largely because they're afraid of what might be found?" Attkisson asked.

Healy said: "There is a completely expressed concern that they don't want to pursue a hypothesis because that hypothesis could be damaging to the public health community at large by scaring people. "First of all," Healy said, "I think the public’s smarter than that. The public values vaccines. But more importantly, I don’t think you should ever turn your back on any scientific hypothesis because you’re afraid of what it might show."

As an example, Healy points to the existing vaccine court claims.

CBS News has learned the government has paid more than 1,300 brain injury claims in vaccine court since 1988, but is not studying those cases or tracking how many of them resulted in autism.

The branch of the government that handles vaccine court told CBS News: “Some children who have been compensated for vaccine injuries…may ultimately end up with autism or autistic symptoms, but we do not track cases on this basis.”

"What we’re seeing in the bulk of the population: vaccines are safe," said Healy. "But there may be this susceptible group. The fact that there is concern, that you don’t want to know that susceptible group is a real disappointment to me. If you know that susceptible group, you can save those children. If you turn your back on the notion that there is a susceptible group… what can I say?"

Dr. Jon Poling, Neurologist, Assistant Professor Medical College of Georgia,  Atlanta Journal Constitution, March 13, 2009

"Fortunately, the ‘better diagnosis’ myth has been soundly debunked. ... 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.

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer, November 11, 2009

IACC includes vaccine research objective in strategic plan for autism research

Autism Speaks is encouraged by new language recommending funding of vaccine research

NEW YORK, NY (November 11, 2009) – Autism Speaks is encouraged by yesterday's decision of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) to include vaccine research studies in the objectives of the updated Strategic Plan for Autism Research. The new language, approved unanimously, calls for studies to determine if there are sub-populations that are more susceptible to environmental exposures such as immune challenges related to naturally occurring infections, vaccines or underlying immune problems. "This revised plan is an important step toward a more comprehensive approach to exploring the wide range of risk factors that may be contributing to autism," said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer.

The names and agencies listed above are simply ignored by anthropology professor Grinker in adopting the opinion that democratization of science, the internet, and  ignorant, stupid parents, misled by celebrities are responsible for  declines in immunization rates.

No mention is made by the "objective, scientific" professor about the fact that there have been many vaccine injury claims paid out by the US Vaccine Court or the reality that parents are in fact the first to see, and report,  what happens to their children after any event that is followed by a decline in their children's health and well being.

The Offit Offensive has cranked it up considerably with the Mnookin book, the BMJ/Brian Deer conviction of Dr. Wakefield and the big media interviews and articles denigrating anyone who questions vaccine safety. The Grinker Review is the latest cheap shot fired at questioning,  concerned parents. 

Whether this all out offensive results in increased immunization rates remains to be seen.  


Unknown said...


Thank you for your comments Kev. Your position that Dr. Healey, a former NIH director, and Dr. Poling a Neurologist and professor at a Medical College, have no science background is amusing. You also skipped over the fact that in 2009 the IACC had placed further vaccine autism research on the strategic plan.

I place quotes on a term to emphasize the term not as a "scare quote" which I have never heard of before.

I am not anti-vaccine. I do not attribute my son's autism to vaccines. Both of my sons have received all recommended vaccines. I even got the H1N1 even though I had serious doubts about the efficacy of the vaccine or need for me to do so. As a faithful reader of this blog you already know these things.

I am opposed to the attempts to intimidate those who question vaccine safety and those who call for more vaccine autism research. Science is not "closed" (No intent to scare you with the quotation marks Kev). I do believe there is a need for more research on the impact on the developing fetus of all vaccine ingredients injected into pregnant women, including possible neurological damage ... including yes autism.

jonathan said...

For many Internet users, a blogger's opinion and a peer-reviewed scientific article may have equal weight.

Perhaps slightly off topic, but I don't agree that a blogger's opinion and some peer-approved journal articles have equal weight.

I believe my opinion as a blogger that autism is a harmful horrific disease that needs a cure has far more weight than Morton Gernsbacher's Michelle Dawson's and Laurent Mottron's peer reviewed and approved article "Autism:common heritable but not harmful" in which they state that autism is a harmless condition.

AutismNewsBeat said...


If Prof. Grinker included the names of all the scientists who think that the possible vaccine autism links have been explored and ruled out, and would minimize the need to conduct research to explore possible connections, then his review would be hundreds, if not thousands of pages long. That would be real balance, as opposed to the false balance that you seek.

Besides that, Dr. Healy is a person who also lobbied to minimize the dangers of second hand smoke. She's shown her willingness to be co-opted by who ever pays her.

Jon Poling's conflict of interest is well known, since he had a daughter that benefited from the vaccine injury program in the US. Not to mention that he attracted the article title The appalling Poling Saga from a journal editor for failing to disclose that conflict of interest.

Dr. Dawson needs to walk a fine line between science and being the head of an org where the daughter of the founders is a strident anti-vaxer. She doesn't want to alienate those people, and so chooses her words carefully.

That's all you have, Harold.

Unknown said...

ANB you miss the point of my comment. Professor Grinker attributes concerns over vaccine safety and autism to celebrities and ignorant, inompetent parents. The names I cited, your mud slinging notwithstanding, are very intelligent, informed professionals who have acknowledged that more research needs to be done on vaccine autism issues. There are more and you know it. Dr. Julie Gerberding of the CDC now with Merck has said that a comparative study of d autism rates in existing vaccinated and unvaccinated populations could and should be done. It was the IACC that included the suggestion of more autism vaccine research in its 2009 proposal.

That is my position ... an open minded position. You are ideologically entrenched in the camp that says that science has determined all vaccine autism issues. If that were so the current onslaught of personal attacks on those who question vaccine safety would be unnecessary.

Unknown said...

Kev thank you for acknowledging that the persons I mentioned have a science background. That is the point of my comment. There are scientists, not just celebrities, who have called for more vaccine autism research. Cultural anthropology Professor Grinker presented a misleading picture by indicating that it is just celebrities who are providing information to ignorant unwashed parents.

I am not sure how many ways I can say this to you ... Conor has received ALL recommended vaccines and I have not attributed his autistic disorder to vaccines. I do not rule out the possibility that vaccines may have impacted him pre-birth. That is the most important development period it is also the environment that is mentioned as requiring more study for the impact of events on the fetus including, but not limited to, vaccine ingredients given to expecting women that cross the placenta.

Have a good day Kev.

ian MacGregor said...

Isaac Newton believed that women could give birth to cats. I believe the physicist John Hagelin, who also was a presidential candidate of the Natural Law Party ascribed to yogic flying. Even people with strong scientific backgrounds can be mistaken.

The problem is that based on epidemiological studies one cannot state absolutes. This gives people wiggle room and they use this to insist the link between vaccines and autism has not been disproven. This is despite the large preponderance of evidence against such a link.

On the other hand we often say we are certain when we don't know something to be absolutely true. The converse is so highly improbable, it is dismissed.

This is where things stand on the autism/vaccine link. You can certainly doubt whether the link has been disproven, but is that a reasonable doubt?

I know you don't blame immunizations for Connor's condition.

nhokkanen said...

Chemistry professor Dr. Boyd E. Haley, PhD, once told me that talking with people who don't want to understand mercury toxicity is like having the same argument over and over with the town drunk.

Give Kev and Ken a bottle of Old Crow and let them toddle off and mumble to themselves.