5/20/2010

There Are No Genetic Epidemics, The Rally Cry of the Vaccine Injury Crowd

We'll leave alone the whole epidemic thing concerning autism, and freely acknowledge that prevalence rates have increased over the last forty years. Yup, we'll even stipulate that, holy crap on a cracker, the prevalence rates now of 1 in 100 or so is way way higher than the prevalence rates of autism in, say, 1930. Of course, reasonable people know why this is. Reasonable people know that part of the reason prevalence rates have increased over time is umm, the identification of symptoms and behaviors as autism, the changing and expansion of autism over the last several decades, the better access to clinicians and practitioners who can identify it, the laws of the federal government mandating the identification of and free, appropriate education for individuals with disabilities, and no doubt some other very reasonable explanations.

Most people get that. Most people don't run around screaming that there's no such thing as a genetic epidemic but there is an epidemic of autism, so it must be the vaccines. Most people.

Not those who buy into the tale of doom, gloom, and woe that AoA sells. They shout it until they're blue in the face. They go on and on about how no one in their family has ever had autism. Then, some of them end up admitting they're on the spectrum, too, but that's besides the point; it was still the vaccines. Or they have multiple relatives on the spectrum, but it's still totally the vaccines. Everyone knows that's not how genetics work! You don't all of a sudden have a whole bunch of autistic people!

Except when you do have a bunch of people labeled autistic. And you forget that most of the disorders in the DSM bible are socially constructed disorders. No, I'm not saying that the disability or difference isn't real. What I'm saying is that when a bunch of people decide that these particular wide range of behaviors are deviant, disordered and dysfunctional in and of themselves, rather than looking to the environment around the individual to see how that environment contributes to whether an attribute is a deficit or an advantage, you've got an arbitrary point at which you're deciding something's within the normal range of development and when it's not. But that' a whole 'nother post.

I posted the other day about epistasis, something that is taught in lifespan (developmental psychology). That's where genes can interact together to create a trait no ancestor had.

Today, I'd like to quote from the text I'm fixing to teach from for my summer 1 class: "Thus, when something is 'genetic,' that does not mean that its genetic origins are substantial, fixed, or unalterable. It means that it is part of a person's basic foundation, affecting many aspects of life, but determining none" (Berger, p. 74).

Berger continues, "Every trait, action, and attitude has a genetic component: Without genes, no behavior could exist. But without environment, no gene could be expressed." (p. 74).

What I'm trying to get at, in my gentle way, is that there are very few rational, reasonable and evidenced arguments provided by those who think autism is caused by vaccines. They show a piss-poor basic understanding of the interplay of genetics and environment. They show a tremendously deficient understanding of the basics of anatomy and physiology (especially immunology), and for all that some of them put on a fiery show of big words and an ability to use a dictionary and spout off about critical thinking, they do a pretty good job of butchering that all to hell and back, as well. There's nothing like a good case of righteous indignation to fire you up and blind you to the huge, gaping holes in your story.

Listen, if it feels like you're part of a small band of people fighting against the man, the media, and most of society as a whole, there's probably a reason for it, and it isn't because you're right. If people don't take you seriously and dismiss your claims, it might be because you've left a written trail of your embellishments and alterations a mile wide. It might explain why instead of being met with compassion and respect, you're engaged with as if you had no credibility. It might explain a whole lot is what I'm just saying.

Reference:

Berger. The Developing Person Throughout the Life Span, 7th edition.

3 comments:

kathleen said...

This was well done..thanks. It gives a brief but informative sketch of the role genetics play in all of us. Although I'm guessing in some situations all the explaining in the world won't do anything..I wonder if there is a gene marker for "perpetually angry victim"?

Autism News Beat said...

Great post, Kim! Too bad it won't sink in for some.

Science Mom said...

I agree, it will be lost on 'that group' but is, undoubtedly, quite useful to some. It is predictable that the scientific ignorant of AoA glom onto 'environmental' to always, always mean vaccines. To the point that I cringe when someone uses it simply for the way it will be spun; not that it is used erroneously.