(Civil) Conversations With Those Who Think Vaccines Cause Autism

I wrote recently about an AoA post by a mother who wanted to know why there was so much hostility and name-calling going on between those who believe vaccines caused their child's autism and those who follow the science which says it doesn't. To be fair, that's not how she couched it because she's not buying the science. She's buying Handley's fourteen studies.

I'd agree with her on the lack of civility, although to be honest, I really don't get out that much onto the vaccines-are-responsible-for-all-that's-gone-wrong sites, so I don't know where this blogger is getting all the hostility. Yes, the folks at Orac and at LBRB can be a wee bit harsh on folks who come draped in AoA and the anti-vaxxer's anti-science. The trick is distinguishing which parents are well-meaning and simply latched onto the wrong information at the wrong time and those who are dipped, battered, and deep-fried in the woo. Not all parents who are certain the vaccines did it are the above, and I'm more than honest enough to admit that I have indeed called a dumbass a dumbass. And for that matter, a chickenshit a chickenshit. It's just the way I'm drawn, folks, and I think you appreciate the honesty you get from me. You know where you stand with me. I don't believe in being uncivil, but I can be quite tart.

There's a reason for that, and one I believe is a darn good one. Some of these people at AoA and like-minded organizations and groups are militantly anti-vaccine. Why, I have no clue. But they are and when they have decent, intelligent and nice people thinking maybe we don't need the vaccines here because we've got better conditions overall, better medical responses, so that suffering is no big deal, well, you know we're in trouble. The truth is people die from diseases when they shouldn't have to. And to wish the pain and misery that some of these infectious diseases are, even when no long term damage is done, all because of the misguided belief that vaccines caused your children's (yes, plural) autism, well, again, I repeat, we are in for a world of hurt. Literally.

So, I've gone out and about and talked to some folks who are quite insistent that the vaccines did it. I ran Craig's very harrowing story of a vaccine adverse event (which us science-loving folks have never denied happen). We (at Raising Autism/Countering's Facebook group) are supportive of all families dealing with autism, regardless of what the belief structure is. And I've come away with some thoughts on the whole shebang.

Certainty and the need for answers and a clear course of action. That has to be part of it, surely. Guilt, as well, not just over the thought that one way or another (through genetics or something you did environmentally) that you are to blame over the child(ren)'s autism must be playing some role. Perhaps even a tinge of guilt over not wanting to be a parent to a disabled child, or God forbid, children (a friend put that idea out there). Maybe. And then to have no cures, no quick and easy paths to take to help your child be normal, it can be easy to turn to woo. Sure, it can.

And it can be even easier to make attributions about causes that just aren't there. Of course, the problem with this is that no one can make someone else see something he or she doesn't want to see. You can lead them to the IOM, lead them to study after study that hasn't been interpreted by a Spanish teacher or a bully, and still not make them see, especially when those study-bashers are offering some products that promise your child a cure. Uh-huh,  I can certainly see how folks could go, how can I not?

Emotion, especially in connection with your children, can be all but impossible to put aside. Especially regarding medical decisions. However, it is precisely then that we must put aside our emotions and let reason and rationality prevail.

The science does not support a causal link between autism and vaccines. One's certainty that the fact their child had a vaccine and then later regressed (or not) into autism doesn't make it so.

I commented on a post by a person sure that vaccines are to blame, sure that they may not be as necessary as we think, and I'm going to provide it here. I'm not linking to the person's blog or the person's actual words out of respect for the person's right to privacy (I know, I know). The person is welcome, if he/she wants, to comment and provide the link to his/her blog. I've provided, in the comment, this example from my own life on faulty attributions, so I hope you'll forgive me for sharing it again. It demonstrates so well that we are none of us exempt from it.

My comment (I know some of it will make you wonder what the comment was that triggered the specifics of this response, so I will provide clarification in parentheses):

Independent researchers do have access to the VAERS data; everyone does. :-) (asserted that independent researchers should have access to the data after I provided the link to VAERS because of the assertion that the VAERS data wasn't available)

Ah, I wouldn't make you own some of these folks over at AoA; that'd be downright tacky of me. (well, who wants to be lumped in with the crazy folks on the fringes?)

And I'm sorry if you've been accused of being anti-vaccine, but I did point out that when you provide information that is scientifically inaccurate and from the fringe elements, it's easy to get branded with the title. Still wouldn't put you in the same camp as the folks using this stuff, though: http://www.alternative-doctor.com/vaccination/index.htm. And some of the folks at AoA are. Even worse, they use whale.to. (You can not wrap yourself in their talking points and not get dinged for it)

No, I wouldn't want to be placed in the same camp with the extremists on the vaccines-are-awesome-because-they-save-lives-and-prevent-lifelong-disabilities. But, I don't use their talking points and don't (that I am aware of) frequent their sites. (see two paragraphs up)

And I would agree that the chicken pox, which does kill about 100 people in the US a year, is not the best example to use. However, if it prevents 100 deaths, if it prevents permanent disabilities and the risk of shingles occuring at a later date, and the rate of adverse reactions is far less than the rate of complications and deaths, then why exactly would you be against it? (pro-vaccine folks trotting chicken pox out as a needed vaccine)

After all, your argument that we're a first rate country and vaccines aren't as necessary because we can provide better care after the disease process is started, well, that is a little anti-vaccine sounding, isn't it? And those 100 chicken pox deaths are here, where that awesome first rate medical care is.

If you won't look at Thelma and Louise, then read http://lilwalnutbrain.blogspot.com/. Her son is day 36 after serious, life-threatening complications from H1N1. (Title of blog is offensive, although I would argue true, as I am sure even the looniest of folks at AoA has feelings)

And read the IOM's Vaccines and Autism. Spread your reading out and contrast your vaccine-linked sites with sites like science-based medicine. And reread Gladwell. (Well, you can't say you've pursued the science if you haven't read the science, and Gladwell's Blink is a nice primer on attribution errors. If you've read it and you still can't see you might be wrong, well....)

You know, for four years I would have sworn all three of my autistic children and I were gluten and casein intolerant. All because my son began to read within six months of going on the diet. Forget about the eight years of prior hard work on my part and his. It had to be the diet. After all, the reading happened after the diet started. And my issues were better. Huh. Turns out none of us were gluten or casein intolerant. Not celiac. Nope. I had, however, recently had my gall bladder out, and the reduction in fat (when you take away the gluten and casein, you take away a lot of fat, too) led to improvement in my issues. (my oft-trotted out example of how I made a four year unbelievably untasty mistake)

Long story short (I know you're thinking, not really), boy, did I have egg on my face this past March when we all went off the diet and were just fine. Just fine. And, actually, all the kids social skills saw significant improvement and the girlies did better academically. Must be the milk and wheat!

Now, do I think civil exchange is possible? Absolutely. Do I think it's going to move the diehard? Nope. Not much better than the name-calling. The name-calling is probably more satisfying, in some ways. Less frustrating, but it can easily get dehumanizing. And I'm not about that. Well, other than noting when someone is a dumbass. And a wackaloon. Oh, okay. But, come on, don't I always give evidence? I don't just name call and not defend it. And seriously, only another wackaloon would deny the first person's wackaloon status, right?
I think that labeling has a place, though. We should remember that people are complex organisms and that belief systems are just as complex. We should remember that there are an infinite number of positions available and not everyone at AoA is as off the deep-end as one of their diehard commenters who is militantly anti-vaccine and proud of it. Go see Thelma and Louise for some of the sources of the worst of the woo; don't let the dumbass in their title stand in your way.


Mom26children said...

I have tried...really hard to stay away from AoA..but, tonight I had some time on my hands.
They have really crossed the line with the latest propaganda picture...
My heart is breaking with what they have done...

Liz Ditz said...

The AoA photoshopped image, and the comments (especially from K Stagliano) are revolting.

What J. B. Handley wrote abut Amy Wallace was awful, but what Stagliano wrote in the comments at that post about Nancy Snyderman was worse. I took screenshots with URL in case they take it down.

Age of Autism advertises itself as the "Daily Web Newspaper of the Autism Epidemic". OK, it is down with the National Enquirer or the Star.

KWombles said...

I hadn't seen that on AoA when I wrote this post.

It is over the top and, yes, the comments are worse. Working on a post now.