August 10, 2009

Autism and the Anti-Vax

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:27 am by fuckyourfavoritedreams

For some reason, fear of vaccinations seems to affect a lot of people, even some with otherwise logical belief systems. I guess that on a basic level it is understandable. Shots are scary. They alter our bodies and the average person could not tell you the ingredients in an MMR vaccination. Sometimes there are side-effects. There can be allergic reactions and in rare cases, death. One of the things that vaccinations do NOT cause, however, is autism. I am speaking specifically of autism in this post because it the argument that I have been dealing with most recently on forums.

When I was a child, my mother took me to the doctor for my vaccinations and had what I consider a healthy, though uninformed, anxiety about having me vaccinated. Like a good patient, she talked over these anxieties with my pediatrician, Dr. Bruce. According to my mother (I was way too young to remember), he seemed noticeably perturbed at the notion that the risks could even begin to outweigh the benefits of having a child vaccinated. I was successfully vaccinated and did not develop autism.

A perusal through wikipedia’s pages on autism basically leaves one conclusion: scientists mostly agree that autism is entirely a prenatal pheonomenon– perhaps a combination of tricky genetics and the prenatal environment. It is not, however, a product of postnatal environment. Everything that the anti-vax crowd has claimed at one point as a cause of autism– MMR shots, mercury, etc, is based on shoddy research, the most popular study of which, did not even contain a control set.

Autism is also very tricky because it isn’t just a “disease.” It is a full spectrum of social disorders, very similar to ADHD. There are “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” autism patients. Some aren’t even diagnosed until later in life. There isn’t even a definite line between what is normal and what is considered symptoms of semi-autistic behavior. The lead singer of the Strokes found out that he has Asperger’s Syndrome a few years ago, after successfully living his life for a long time. As physicians become more adept at spotting autistic behavior, the “rate of autism” will appear to rise. That isn’t because more children have the syndrome. It is because more are being diagnosed with it.

So why do some skeptics believe the anti-vax hype? Do they consider the medical industry as something else to be skeptical of? It should be obvious how this differs from the average skepticism of religion. Medicine can be tested with a variable and a control and such experiments can be published in scientific journals. In fact, they often are. Medicine is held up to the rigorous standards of science, whereas religion is not. I am not saying that medical industry always has the consumer as the highest priority over making money, but they are intensely regulated so that medication says what it says it will and nothing more or less. It is very disheartening to see people like Maher spew such nonsense about how “Big Pharma” is going to kill us, while at the same time making a film like Religulous.

If you like reading and thinking about stuff like this, I highly suggest the blog Gullibility Is Bad For You.

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