Vaccines and Autism — Media Report Card

By Darcy Cowan 15/09/2011

Just got sent this link by the irrepressible Aimee, a “Not great” article about the Vaccines vs Autism “Debate”.

Here’s my Media Score Card for this article:

Much rubbish, a few good points. I give her a C.

‘vaccinate at any cost’ = Strawman
Court decisions =/= Science
Incomplete knowledge = No knowledge = Fail
Anecdote =/= Good Evidence
“acceptable risk” argument simplifies risk/benefit assessment = Fail
“Teh Toxins” = Fail
Injection = Unnatural = Fail
“canaries in the coalmine” = Fail.   Can someone say “Mommy instinct”?

Respectful discussion = Win
Pro-information = Win
Complex topic = Win.

All-in-all a reasonable person sucked into the Vaccine -> Autism perspective.


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Filed under: Medicine, Sciblogs, Science, skepticism Tagged: Alternative medicine, Autism, health, media, Mental health, Neurodevelopmental, Science and Society, Side Effect Debate, Vaccination

0 Responses to “Vaccines and Autism — Media Report Card”

  • I think that you are generous with the C-.

    In my days at uni, C- was a bare pass which did not entitle you allowed to progress in the subject.

    With so many errors, the poor comprehension of the science, and the inability to even find the information (“the factual vacuum”), I would give her a D or maybe even an E.

    In university terms: start the course again and make sure that you do the research and understand the science before you have another attempt!

    • I did originally give a D grade, but reconsidered given the endorsement of respectful interaction. Something that is lacking in much of the Vax/Antivax clashes.

  • Could you please elucidate, point by point, the ‘rubbish’ in the article?

  • I did summarise but can expand if you wish.

    The author starts out by saying there is a “vaccinate at any cost” mentality among the pro-vax. This is what is called a strawman as it is a caricature of the actuall position, no-one actually holds that we must vaccinate at any price. The real situation is more nuanced than that (which the author admits later) the point is to perform a risk/benefit analysis with regard to vaccination and decide how high the risks of vaccinating against the risks of not vaccinating.

    When this is done objectively it turns out that the risks of getting a disease and the complications that arise from this is high than the risks from the vaccines. No-one is saying that vaccines are 100% safe, but they are safer than the diseases.

    Next she goes on to say that the vaccines lead to autism thing is a viable conclusion ‘cos the courts say so. Well courts are not the arbiter of scientific consesus, science is. Also the burden of evidence in these cases is quite low, much lower than in science, and rightly so. We do not want the court process to have such a high burden of proof that suffering families have no hope. But with this must come the acceptance that the court room is not where science should be decided.

    The author then decides the vaccines cause autism is acceptable because we have incomplete knowledge about the causes of autism. This is true but incomplete knowledge does not mean anything goes and we know enough that vaccines can be ruled out as a significant contributing factor.

    Next the author appeals to anecdote to make the vaccines -> autism point. She does this by asserting that a family member has autism because of vaccines. This is what we call begging the question, she has assumed the truth of the vaccines cause autism in her premise and uses the premise to support her conclusion. Something of a no-no if you want your argument to be taken seriously.

    The author also appeals to “toxins” in the vaccines as the boogy man (ie look at the ingredients). This despite most of the ingredients being in use and showing safety for years (decades even in some cases) before the “Autism epidemic” was an issue.

    She simplifies the risk/benefit assessment again by arguing that pro-vax people see vaccine injury as an “acceptable risk”, she also implies that we callously disregard those who might be harmed, quite offensive actually. When in reality we simply recognised that greater numbers of individuals will be saved through use of vaccines than without them. To say that this is equivalent to turning our backs on those harmed by vaccines is a cheap shot.

    She re-iterates a talking point of the anti-vax crowd that the method of vaccine introduction into the body is “unnatural” and therefore possibly harmful in itself. Obviously these people have never had a scratch, nor stepped on a nail.

    She also implies that parents who assret that their children have been harmed by vaccines are the “canaries in the coal mine” and we should listen to them on that basis. Well, guess what, scientists did and investigated the link between vaccines and autism. Turned out there wasn’t any. Should we keep listening beyond the time that the hypothesis is a viable one?

    The good points I thought were that she recognised that discussion should be respectful and not a degenerate mud-slinging match. I agree. She mentioned being for the dispersal of information on this topic so that parents can make informed decisions. I’m behind that too. She also called for people to recognise that this is a complex issue, somewhat ironic given her massive simplifications, but I agree with that as well.

    In the end I found the writer to be trying to honestly come to grips with the issue, she failed in my opinion, but she did so without outright names calling, vilification and denunciation. It’s a sad state of affairs that I consider that a win, but there we are.