Monday, October 19, 2009

Wired Gets It

I got my latest copy of "Wired" magazine (Nov. 2009), and to my surprise, the front page article is: "Fear" by Amy Wallace. I am surprised, because it is a rather well written article debunking all of the myths associated with childhood vaccines, and their alleged connection to autism. It is rather rare to find an article like that in the mainstream media, which prefers to present "controversy" and misinformation, rather that facts, and scientific point of view.
The article not only presents this rational view (with the help of no other that Paul Offit, the author of "Autism's False Prophets"), but also makes a few well placed, general, skeptical arguments, which help to drive the point, so often missed when dealing with myths and irrational ideas, yet so important in showing why people tend to believe in pseudo-science:

"In 1905, French mathematician and scientist Henri Poincare said that the willingness to embrace pseudo-science flourished because people 'know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether illusion is no more consoling.'"
"Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort"
Going back to vaccines, the article drives a few good points:
  • Because of vaccines, the childhood diseases are mostly out of our minds, but they are making a comeback, mainly due to the fact that some parents refuse to vaccinate their children.
  • Very well known fact among the scientists is that "correlation does not imply causation", but this is one of the main drivers of the anti-vaccine movement, which claims that the increased rate of autism is caused by the expanded vaccine schedule in the developed countries. This "fact", is not true of course: it has been shown that the main cause of climbing autism rates is increased monitoring and expanded definition of the term "autism". As a matter of fact, a very recent study in U.K. has shown that autism rates are uniform across all age groups, which proves that there is no "epidemic".
  • While the anti-vaccine movement claims that the doctors and the "big pharma" support vaccines only for their financial gain (not true at all - there is much more money to be made off sick people), there is even bigger business of the alternative therapies growing all over the world. That's were the real profits are, and guess who makes real gains?
  • The public really does not appreciate the amount of pain and suffering (and lives) saved by the vaccines in the U.S. and worldwide.
Let's hope this article will make a small dent in the anti-vax propaganda, and maybe a few lives will be saved.

As soon as the current version of the magazine (and this article) is available on line, I'll link to it.

EDIT:
As promised, here is the link to the article: An Epidemic of Fear: How Panicked Parents Skipping Shots Endangers Us All

Also, a short post on the indispensable Science-Based Medicine Blog: An epidemic of fear: The anti-vaccine movement’s war on science