Dan Olmsted, Editor of the blog "Age of Autism" and former wire service reporter, offers up an interesting (and pretty thoughtful) analysis, titled, "Dan Olmsted On Why Progressives Don't Get Autism", pointing out what he thinks is a blind spot for many on the left: the issue of questioning current vaccine policy, especially as it relates to possible links with autism. Olmsted writes:
It’s doubly disappointing to see traditionally progressive outlets – from Salon to Daily Kos to The Atlantic to National Public Radio and PBS – ignore the evidence presented in our book and so many other places, twist the facts they can’t deny, belittle those who believe otherwise including beleaguered autism parents, and glibly trumpet tired reassurances that the concern over vaccines has been "asked and answered," that "study after study" has refuted any relation, and that continuing to point out disturbing patterns of evidence to the contrary endangers children and infants.
Wherever you stand on this issue, or if you firmly think it's a non-issue, Omlsted points out some troubling behavior in the public health complex that should concern progressives. More and a link to the piece is below the fold.
Personally, I'm (along with former head of the National Institute of Health, Dr. Bernadine Healy) in "the jury is still out" camp on this high decible debate within and outside the autism community.
This debate's been going on at volume 10 for a long, long time now and, despite huge PR efforts on the part of government, trade organizations and the very public discreditation of a critical study by a British researcher suggesting a link between MMR immunizations and autism, it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon. I think Olmsted hits on some of the reasons why in the following passage.
One key part of the progressive agenda of the last century has been improving health – and especially children’s health – through mass vaccination against deadly diseases. And now come a new group of people, autism parents, who allegedly want to roll back all this progress so long in the making. And how do they want to accomplish this nefarious (and nebulous) goal? By questioning the consensus that genes cause autism, and by claiming that the environment – and plausibly some aspect of the very same mass vaccination campaign -- is implicated in autism’s epidemic rise. Cleverly labeling these concerns "anti-vaccine" and, implicitly, anti-progress, makes it easy to ignore a fundamental truth -- that every ideology including progressivism can go too far, get hijacked by forces that should be its natural enemies, and fail to understand what is required at a particular historical moment.
I disagree with a lot of the Age of Autism people in that I think there is great value in researching the genetic angle because I think we're looking at different "autisms", or "autism sub-types", which genetics can help us understand better. A lot of the current science is summarized here: http://www.autismspeaks.org/...
By way of a disclaimer, I vaccinated both my kids (one with autism, one typical) and think immunization is an absolutely critical tool for public health worldwide. I've never been involved in any litigation on the issue but, like Olmsted, I am on the record having registered my discomfort and unease with the current construct that I think too closely links vaccine promotion and safety as well as the all too cozy relationship between our public health officials and corporate interests who have a "one size fits all" and "more is always better" philosophical underpinning. Olmsted hits on this issue below. If his example is not a revolving door, I don't know what is.
Government needs to untangle itself from the interests and involvements with private industry and technological development that have tied it down like Gulliver, and take back control of science and policy. It needs to get past the gerberding of government, in which revolving regulators like CDC director Julie Gerberding went from recommending vaccines one day to running the vaccine division at Merck 365 days later.
I'm also not yet convinced that the epidemiological studies done so far tell us as much as we need to know about the complex biology of immune dysfunction in some autism subtypes. I also believe that the current recommended immunization schedule shouldn't be "off limits" for public debate and robust study. The mainstream advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, puts the issue this way:
It's important to keep in mind that the lack of a relationship between vaccines and autism in large population studies does not mean that there cannot be any relationship in some individual instances. Immunizations can, in rare cases, have adverse consequences; this is well-known. It remains scientifically plausible that the challenge to the immune system resulting from a vaccine (or other immunological challenges) could, in susceptible individuals, have adverse consequences for the developing brain.
As a progressive, I strongly believe in public health initiatives all over the world to aggressively fight disease but think that a robust system of checks and balances is not what it ought to be in the United States. It worries me greatly that for some definable, and perhaps not so small, subset of kids with immune system vulnerabilites (like Hannah Poling and others), it's plausible that some components or timing of the recommended immunization schedule may be doing more harm than good.
Anyhow, I think Olmsted's piece is worth a read, wherever you stand on the issue. Since he called out Kos, I figured folks here may want to know about it. Olmsted also "piles on" a bit...
The best major-media reporting recently on this issue has come from conservative Fox News, which has taken to running almost weekly reports. The network seems to have been prompted by the government’s strange concession in Vaccine Court – that autism was not "caused" by vaccines but autistic symptoms "resulted" from the vaccinations – which a reporter called "fishy legal language."
Is that really what progressives and mainstream journalists want? To watch the most important health problem of our time covered best by the most conservative news outlet in the country?
Here's the entire piece: