Monday, April 25, 2005

Clever line doesn't address thimerosal, autism link

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:40 AM |  

In the category of "get it right before you criticize" is this letter from Sunday's Pioneer Press about the thimerosal, autism connection.

I don't know; nor
does Westover

I don't know if vaccinations in childhood lead to autism. Neither does Craig Westover. The difference is I am not a rabidly conservative ideologue with an anti-government agenda. I am a student of history who knows that before vaccinations an awful lot of children died from or were crippled by fearsome diseases like smallpox and polio. These diseases are now all but unheard of in the U.S. thanks to vaccinations.

What is offensive about all of this is Westover's underlying belief all of the decent, hard-working researchers who have devoted their life to fighting against terrible diseases are somehow charlatans who are willfully avoiding the supposed autism/vaccination link. If there is a better, safer way to do vaccinations, I am sure researchers are leaving no stone unturned to find it, while Westover is looking for black helicopters over Afton.

A clever letter, Mr. Olson, but being a student of history, one should get one's facts stright before criticizing. For example, from my February 9th column --
What do you say to the father of an autistic child when you think he's wrong?

That was my reaction to a phone call I received after my column on the flu vaccine shortage appeared on these pages. I'm old enough to remember classmates with limbs shriveled by childhood polio. The childhood vaccination program is a real and proper government success story. Doubting the conspiracy theory, I was nonetheless curious.
In other words, if I were indeed a "rabid ideologue," I would have gone with my instincts and dismissed the guy as a "black heliocopter looney."

From my March 16th column --
The notion that vaccines might cause harm, even to a minority of kids, "threatens the very core of what these bureaucrats believe in," Kirby quotes the father of an autistic child as saying. "The whole apparatus is there to do good. . . .The notion that [vaccinations] are harmful is unthinkable [to them]."
That is hardly saying “all of the decent, hardworking researchers who have devoted their life [sic] to fighting against terrible diseases are somehow charlatans who are willfully avoiding the autism/vaccination link.”

Case in point is vaccine developer Dr. Maurice Hilleman, “who may have saved more lives than any other scientist of the 20th century,” who in 1991 while working as a consultant for Merck raised the issue that children were receiving excessive amounts of mercury via vaccinations -- a warning that went unheeded by both the pharmaceutical industry and government regulatory agencies.

If you're taking me to task for my criticism of Dr. Hull, so be it. I stand behind it. Using a newspaper article as evidence of his position when in fact the study described in the article supports the opposing posiition is inexcusable for a scientist in his position of authority. But he's an individual case.

In point of fact, there are many researchers at prestigious research universities and facilities looking at the mercury, autism connection. They just don’t work for the government and are doing so at the risk of their funding, their reputations and their careers. It is the IOM that has said don’t “turn over the stone” of a thimerosal, autism connection.

If you are, indeed a student of history, at least a student of the history of this issue, you would know that it is “rabidly conservative ideologues” like Sen. Bill Frist that are lining up with legislation to protect pharmaceutical companies from liability for “non-existent connection“ between thimerosal and autism. You would also know that it is rabidly liberal ideologues whose hatred of Bush and all things conservative is overwhelmed by their unshakable faith that government can do no wrong that also find themselves aligning with pharmaceutical companies.

That’s not conspiracy theory, that’s politics.

A clever letter, Mr. Olson, but cleverness is a spice to substance, not a substitute.