29 May 2007

The Autism/Vaccine Controversy

The title of this post names a token of a type, one of a class of controversies where I have a vague awareness that there is a discussion underway, I regard the subject (from the clues that have wafted there way into my ears) as a fascinating one, yet I haven't found time for real research into the matter -- surely not research sufficient to have an opinion.

This is a blog, so let's not let my ignorance stand in the way of some bloviation! Have any/many children acquired autism due to mercury? The debate centers on thimerosal, a mercury-containing and inexpensive preservative that used to be used (my understanding is that has been phased out due to an act of Congress in 1997) in a variety of childhood vaccinations.

In 2005, freelance writer David Kirby completed and St. Martin’s Press published a monumental work of investigative reporting, EVIDENCE OF HARM, an account of the controversy over the use of thimerosal in children’s vaccines.

My personal interest in the matter dates from the flurry of critiques around the time of the release of that book. The book itself is more than 400 pages long and reportedly contains a good deal of discussion of a technical nature -- it never did make it to the top of my personal "to do" list.

But admirers of the book say it is balanced. Kirby doesn't contend that there is a real thimerosal/autism connection, although he gives very sympathetic treatment to a parents group, Safe Minds, that contends exactly that. One quotation from Kirby's book that made it into the Publishers Weekly review was, "each side accuses the other of being irrational, overzealous, blind to evidence they find inconvenient, and subject to professional, financial, or emotional conflicts of interest that cloud their judgment."

When such is the case, both sides may be right.

The Safe Minds activists have by now generated, in Newtonian fashion, a set of counter-activists, consisting of people who on the "autism spectrum" themselves who want to be accepted "as we are," and who dislike the stigma of poisoning. Or the parents of such persons. It is an old debate, "love your child as he is" versus, "love him enough to cure him," and it appears in a lot of other contexts.

Having said that, I believe, I have said quite enough. Perhaps too much.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.