Parapsychology Journalism: The People, The Theory, The Science, The Skeptics
I’m not part of the vaccine debate about whether they cause autism. I don’t have kids and frankly, I really don’t care. But it is one of those controversies that piques my interest because the basic structure of the controversy is so similar to others that I have covered. It is an area shrouded in misinformation, beliefs and confusion because it isn’t immediately clear what source of information can be trusted. There is an establishment side that relies on one set of facts and controversial side that relies on another.
The debate heated up very recently because apparently there is a whistleblower at the Center for Disease Control. He had been operating anonymously, but he’s been recently outed and immediately fired. This is the man in question per this blog: Celia Farber is covering this story as it develops on her blog.
There are those who believe that his life is in danger. I haven’t been following the story, so I really can’t comment on that. Apparently, he has confessed to manipulating data to hide connections between autism and vaccines. If this is true, then it establishes a link between the U.S. Center for Disease Control, a very respected government institution, and big pharma. Such a connection would undermine the credibility of the CDC because it would imply that its science was being directed by vested corporate interests. That would be an unambiguous conflict of interest.
The debate centers around whether vaccines can cause autism in children. For a parent of a small child who is supposed to be getting vaccines at their age, this is getting caught between the Devil and the deep blue sea. Vaccines, after all, do what they’re supposed to do and stop terrible diseases from spreading. On the other hand, autism, in its most severe forms, can be a life sentence of misery for parents, some of whom will be unable to cope. It is perfectly understandable if some parents are so afraid of autism that they forgo vaccines for their children to prevent it. That is rational decision making.
Who you believe will largely depend on the sources you believe and what you choose to disbelieve. Do you trust the official sources? The Center for Disease Control, the pharmaceutical companies, CNN and other major news outlets? Yes? Then you will believe that there is no link between vaccines and autism because all of the officially sanctioned and widely reported studies say just that. Nothing to worry about here.
Why wouldn’t someone trust them? One reason is money. Global vaccine revenues are estimated to reach 52 billion dollars in 2016. With that kind of money at stake, it’s not at all inconceivable that drug companies would do everything they could to protect their profits. They do have a long track record of bad behavior. Someone might not trust the mainstream media, at least in the U.S. because they are all essentially owned by a small handful of extremely rich people who also have financial interests in drug companies.
In the vaccine controversy we find the usual smears of people who question the status quo; like pretty much every other major controversy, the people questioning the establishment position are portrayed as a bunch of anti-science idiots with practically zero consideration given to the facts or arguments that they put forward. The controversial subject is quickly and poorly debunked, rather than examined.
What are the facts that can be undeniably verified? One of the co-authors of the paper that started the whole kerfluffle has been exonerated in court.
In 1998 the Lancet published a case series on twelve children receiving treatment for bowel dysfunction at the Royal Free Hospital in London. The paper called for further study of a possible association between bowel disease and developmental delay, including cases of autism. It also noted that eight of the children’s gastrointestinal and autistic symptoms began shortly after they received the MMR vaccination. The verdict today raises questions about whether or not the Lancet should have retracted the paper after the GMC decision, as the reasons for its retraction have now been contradicted by the judge’s decision.
The thirteen original co-authors of the 1998 Lancet case series were members of the Royal Free’s Inflammatory Bowel Disease Study Group. In 2004, under pressure from the British medical establishment, ten of the co-authors signed a letter retracting an interpretation of the paper that it proved that vaccines caused autism, which the paper never actually claimed in the first place. John Walker-Smith, Andrew Wakefield and Dr. Simon Murch were subsequently brought up on misconduct charges before the GMC. The proceedings resulted in Walker-Smith and Wakefield being found guilty and being “struck off” the medical register, while Dr. Murch retained his status as a physician. Wakefield was then vilified by corporate media and by bloggers eager to repeat scandal and engage in industry protectionism, rather than investigate the complicated facts of the story.
Today, almost 14 years after the paper was published, the high court determined that John Walker-Smith was innocent of the wrongdoing alleged by the GMC. Judge Mitting reported that the GMC, “on the basis of sensible instructions, does not invite me to remit it to a fresh Fitness to Practice panel for redetermination. The end result is that the finding of serious professional misconduct and the sanction of erasure are both quashed.”
In this article is a list of links to 28 studies that support Dr. Wakefield’s findings:
The Journal of Pediatrics November 1999; 135(5):559-63
The Journal of Pediatrics 2000; 138(3): 366-372
Journal of Clinical Immunology November 2003; 23(6): 504-517
Journal of Neuroimmunology 2005
Brain, Behavior and Immunity 1993; 7: 97-103
Pediatric Neurology 2003; 28(4): 1-3
Neuropsychobiology 2005; 51:77-85
The Journal of Pediatrics May 2005;146(5):605-10
Autism Insights 2009; 1: 1-11
Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology February 2009; 23(2): 95-98
Annals of Clinical Psychiatry 2009:21(3): 148-161
Journal of Child Neurology June 29, 2009; 000:1-6
Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders March 2009;39(3):405-13
Medical Hypotheses August 1998;51:133-144.
Journal of Child Neurology July 2000; ;15(7):429-35
Journal of Autism and Childhood Schizophrenia January-March 1971;1:48-62
Journal of Pediatrics March 2001;138:366-372.
Molecular Psychiatry 2002;7:375-382.
American Journal of Gastroenterolgy April 2004;598-605.
Journal of Clinical Immunology November 2003;23:504-517.
Neuroimmunology April 2006;173(1-2):126-34.
Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol Biol. Psychiatry December 30 2006;30:1472-1477.
Clinical Infectious Diseases September 1 2002;35(Suppl 1):S6-S16
Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 2004;70(11):6459-6465
Journal of Medical Microbiology October 2005;54:987-991
Archivos venezolanos de puericultura y pediatría 2006; Vol 69 (1): 19-25.
Gastroenterology. 2005:128 (Suppl 2);Abstract-303
It took me all of five minutes to research this. Anyone could do it.
What I really find frustrating about this topic in particular is that it appears to be a problem that can be isolated. In Denmark, incidences of autism after vaccinations apparently decreased after the formula was changed to remove mercury. Rather than everyone remaining calm and having rational look at this issue, it got turned into a media circus. Not only does the original problem still have to be dealt with, -incidences of autism have skyrocketed in recent years, going from about 1 in 150 children in 1992 to 1 in 68 in 2010.- All the hype and hyperbole has made this a much harder problem to solve than it would have been otherwise. It might not be that hard of a problem to fix, but we’ll never know if we’re denying that the problem even exists.
It’s a perfect example of how harmful it is to turn subjects into controversies and thereby suppress one side of the discussion. People are harmed. It is impossible to completely suppress the truth these days and someday in the future the drug companies, the CDC and media companies will have their day of reckoning. Faith in modern medicine and the ability of the media to truthfully report about it will erode somewhat as some unspecified number of people drop out of the system looking for safer medical alternatives and journalistic sources they can trust. Not being honest can mean short term profits, but it reduces long term market stability. They are very slowly digging their own graves.
As I said, the vaccination controversy is not my thing. I find it interesting to examine as yet another controversy, but I’m not passionate about it. I think that these things are wedge issues that are slowly, inexorably, cracking and splintering the traditional channels of communication and opening up new ones by exposing the flaws in the status quo. The victim in this case may be the credibility of the U.S. Center for Disease Control. If it’s viewed as merely a lackey for big pharma, then they won’t be trusted and their scientific findings might be dismissed as mere corporate propaganda. Everyone loses.