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Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure Hardcover – 3 Oct 2008
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Every child has a right to be vaccinated against deadly diseases. We started Every Child By Two to protect children from diseases. It didn't occur to me that I would also have to protect them from misinformation about life-saving vaccines. Paul A. Offit's book sets the facts straight.--Rosalynn Carter, former first lady, cofounder of Every Child By Two
Autism's False Prophets is a compelling story of heartbroken parents, understandably desperate for an explanation of autism, being taken in by false hopes unsupported by genuine science. This book goes to the heart of a question that affects every aspect of American culture and political life. Are public policies to be determined by evidence and reason or by emotions that, however intense they may be, have nothing to do with reality?--Susan Jacoby, author of The Age of American Unreason
A definitive analysis of a dangerous and unnecessary controversy that has put the lives of children at risk. Paul A. Offit shows how bad science can take hold of the public consciousness and lead to personal decisions that endanger the health of small children. Every parent who has doubts about the wisdom of vaccinating their kids should read this book.--Peter C. Doherty, Ph.D., St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital and Nobel Laureate in Medicine for fundamental contributions in Immunology
In his latest book Paul A. Offit unfolds the story of autism, infectious diseases, and immunization that has captivated our attention for the last decade. His lively account explores the intersection of science, special interests, and personal courage. It is provocative reading for anyone whose life has been touched by the challenge of autism spectrum disorders.--Susan K. Klein, MD, Ph.D., Case Western Reserve Hospital, and Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital, Case Medical Center
Enlightening, highly readable and... timely.--Rahul K. Parikh, M.D. "Salon.com "
Arguably the most courageous and most knowledgeable scientist about vaccines in the United States.--Robert Goldberg "New York Post "
[Dr. Offit] has done a huge public service by exposing the tragic and dangerous place the anti-vaccine hysteria has taken us.--Huntly Collins "Philadelphia Inquirer "
An invaluable chronicle that relates some of the many ways in which the vulnerabilities of anxious parents have been exploited.--Linda Seebach "Wall Street Journal "
A good read and an important piece of work.--Lisa Jo Rudy "About.com "
A very good read.--Dom Giordano "The Bulletin "
A London researcher was the first to assert that the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine known as MMR caused autism in children. Following this "discovery," a handful of parents declared that a mercury-containing preservative in several vaccines was responsible for the disease. If mercury caused autism, they reasoned, eliminating it from a child's system should treat the disorder. Consequently, a number of untested alternative therapies arose, and, most tragically, in one such treatment, a doctor injected a five-year-old autistic boy with a chemical in an effort to cleanse him of mercury, which stopped his heart instead. Children with autism have been placed on stringent diets, subjected to high-temperature saunas, bathed in magnetic clay, asked to swallow digestive enzymes and activated charcoal, and injected with various combinations of vitamins, minerals, and acids. Instead of helping, these therapies can hurt those who are most vulnerable, and particularly in the case of autism, they undermine childhood vaccination programs that have saved millions of lives.An overwhelming body of scientific evidence clearly shows that childhood vaccines are safe and does not cause autism.Yet widespread fear of vaccines on the part of parents persists. In this book, Paul A. Offit, a national expert on vaccines, challenges the modern-day false prophets who have so egregiously misled the public and exposes the opportunism of the lawyers, journalists, celebrities, and politicians who support them. Offit recounts the history of autism research and the exploitation of this tragic condition by advocates and zealots. He considers the manipulation of science in the popular media and the courtroom, and he explores why society is susceptible to the bad science and risky therapies put forward by many antivaccination activists. See all Product description
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Andrew Wakefield's first paper in The Lancet was based on tests by his research assistant Nicholas Chadwick, who later testified that he had found no measles RNA in the guts of any of the autistic children tested. Yet Wakefield claimed that they had found measles RNA there. (See pages 173-5.)
Wakefield later falsely claimed to have found measles virus in the intestines of 150 autistic children, in tests done by Unigenetics Laboratories, an unaccredited company, now thankfully defunct. 16 epidemiological studies found that vaccines do not cause autism. Even then, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail defended Wakefield, accusing `the medical establishment' of `continuing to misrepresent the evidence'!
As Offit writes, "the false alarm about vaccines and autism continues to harm a lot of children - harm from not getting needed vaccines, harm from potentially dangerous treatments to eliminate mercury, and harm from therapies as absurd as testosterone ablation and electric shock. ... the feared vaccine-autism link, which has now been disproved, diverts research dollars from more promising leads."
A false alarm about thimerosal, a mercury derivative, harmed the USA's hepatitis B immunisation programme. The number of children diagnosed with autism increased after thimerosal had been taken out of vaccines. Offit points out, "there wasn't an epidemic of autism; rather, broadening the definition of the disability to include mildly affected children, as well as heightened awareness among parents and doctors, has accounted for the increase."
Five epidemiological studies found that thimerosal does not cause autism. Offit notes, "After examining the records of hundreds of thousands of children, investigators working in both North America and Europe couldn't find any evidence of a relationship between thimerosal and autism. It wasn't that their studies were poorly designed or that they had been part of a vast international conspiracy to hide the truth. They couldn't find a relationship because it wasn't there to be found."
The lobby opposing vaccination often accuses doctors of making money from backing vaccination, so it is worth noting that Wakefield got £435,643 from Richard Barr, a personal-injury lawyer representing parents who were suing pharmaceutical companies. Wakefield later took a US post at a salary of $280,000 a year.
We are bombarded with theories and interventions from naturalists and nutritionist making bold claims with no evidence. It says a lot when someone shows you something backed by evidence instead of telling you something which isn't.
There is so much genuine understanding of human motivation here - good and bad. The parents desperate for any explanation why their child appears different from most others; the self-delusional medical fraudsters; the money-making lawyers who always come out smiling; the scientists baffled and threatened when all they are trying to do is find out the truth; the media managers desperate for a "controversy" to drive up audience figures and keep their advertisers happy. It is an intensely human story, because if all the characters behaved logically, the absurd and catastrophic loss of faith in vaccines would never have taken place.
Calmly and carefully, Paul strips away the various layers of misunderstanding, poor communication, political opportunism and deliberate lies to reveal: first - that there is not a shred of evidence that any child has ever developed autism as a result of thimerosal in vaccines or the MMR triple vaccine; second, that wherever parents are desperate enough to seek a "cure" for autism, there will be no shortage of hucksters ready to sell hope for a thick wad of cash (oh and by the way parents, if you don't get the result you hoped for - it's your fault); third, just because something is demonstrably false, some people will still choose to believe it.
Ultimately any child with autism is still a child with a future and with potential. All children develop in unexpected ways and this is true of autistic children as well. All chidren benefit from love and support, not from being labelled "hopeless" "soulless" "empty" or "damaged beyond repair". The world is full of autistic people and always will be.
As others have said, if you are the parent of an autistic child, read this book.
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