Well, it’s April once again – Autism Awareness Month as it was when I decided to begin this blog. The next 30 days are sure to be full of a great deal of exciting news in the autism world, as well as many heated battles as I beat back pseudoscience in the field one blog post at a time.

For today though, there will be no battles, just one piece of very exciting news I have to share. Yours truly has been awarded an IMFAR travel grant by the Autism Science Foundation. This means that, thanks to the kind people at the ASF and despite my status as a poor graduate student, I will be able to attend what I have always thought of as the most reputable autism science conference of the year (certainly better than the Autism One conference scheduled to take place the week before… oops, I said no battles today). The conference will take place May 20th-22nd in Philadelphia, and I am totally over the moon about it. Of course, a condition of my receiving the ASF grant was that I share what I learn there with all of you, so be prepared for some cutting-edge research discussion here at the end of May.

~ Esa

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AOL health posted an excellent pair of interviews, entitled  “Autism Experts on Causes, Cures and Controversies”, earlier this month. In it, we get the perspectives of Dr. Paul Offit, author of Autism’s False Prophets and board member of the Autism Science Foundation, and Dr. Geri Dawson, chief medical officer of Autism Speaks on a range of autism-related topics. The two doctors represent the different views of their respective organizations quite well and I see merit in the answers of each. I encourage you to access the article here.

The anti-vaccination movement has been in existence nearly as long as people have been receiving vaccinations. When the cowpox immunization to smallpox was discovered by Edward Jenner at the end of the eighteenth century, the “germ theory” of disease had not yet been established. Therefore, it is not surprising that vaccine contaminations occurred from improper production and handling, nor that a number of immunization-related deaths resulted at a rate outrageous by today’s standards, warranting the public outcry that ensued. Nonetheless, the potential benefits of this new technology far outweighed the risks, especially when compared to contemporary medical practices, making vaccination the new gold standard in medicine and earning funding support from governments across Europe (Stern & Markel, 2005).

It took eighty years for another effective vaccine to be produced, but, once the theory behind the process of vaccination was understood, the practice expanded rapidly to encompass increasing numbers of diverse diseases. In 1902, Congress passed the Biological Control Act, which established the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, headed by the surgeon general, after a number of children died from a diphtheria vaccine contaminated with tetanus. Since then, the responsibility for ensuring safe and effective vaccines has shifted to the National Institute of Health in 1948, followed by the Food and Drug Administration in 1972, where it remains (Junod, 2002). The widespread use of vaccines, coupled with improved sanitation and nutrition over the past two centuries, has lead to a dramatic decrease in the infant mortality rate and an increased life expectancy. In spite of this evidence of benefit, the anti-vaccination movement has persevered, often ignoring or marginalizing the impact of vaccines on these phenomena.

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While this blog remains in its infancy, I need to get to the heart of why you are likely to find an apparent excess of information pertaining to autism while perusing these pages. The full background on this is likely to be a future post in itself, but, to preface this entry, let me just say that my family has been affected by the disorder and that my research interests have since focused on it. That said, I have gotten into rather heated debates with anti-vaccinationists online at various public forums. Actually, the fact that some of them have gotten quite ugly is what has led me to begin my own blog in anonymity. Recently, in one of these other forums, a particular argument against my position, or rather, against me, was used that was too perfect to pass up discussing here.

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Esa, on Law & Order

April 29, 2009

No, I’m not talking principles here, I really do mean the show.

I’ve always found it uncanny how the writers of Law and Order: SVU somehow manage to take whatever issue it is that’s eating away at my mind and make it into one of the most entertaining hours on television.

For anyone who didn’t see tonight’s episode, I’ll provide a brief synopsis:

(SPOILER ALERT)

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Keep your eye out for the last three parts in this series:

Part III: Mercury Rising

Part IV: Generation Rescue or Down the Rabbit Hole

Part V: Minerva Victorious

The next morning they wake to a man who claims
That those in the tower made their children that way.
And, though he, himself, is ivory-built,
Some parents believe he is free from all guilt.
They rush at the tower again, this time armed,
With the limited study, with which they were charmed
By this man who has made them a part of his game,
For he has much to gain if they bring about change.

Those in the tower took the small study in stride,
But spoke to the fear in these parents’ eyes:
“Although we don’t think there is cause for concern,
We will do our own studies so you may be assured.”
Perform studies, they did, and of a grand scale,
Each refuted the first, but to no avail.
The damage was done; the world had lost trust,
Claiming these findings were clouded by lust
For the money that some thought there was to be gained
By backing the companies that cause children pain.
Talk of conspiracy rang from the tops of the trees:
“It is a conflict of interest to put parents at ease
When companies lobby the state, which provides
Funding to science to feed the public its lies.”

The man was a hero for rousing parents to action.
Then the papers uncovered what had really happened.
Lawyers had funded his research, you see,
In an effort to sue those big companies,
And now the man, of whom everyone spoke,
May be facing having his license revoked.
Yet, somehow, these parent-warriors don’t mind –
Any study is perfect if they like what it finds.

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Autism Awareness by Esattezza is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.