Monday, April 4, 2011

Reading List

It's been a while since my last book related post, but that does not mean I haven't done my regular share of reading. Therefore, it is high time to present some of my 2011, 1st quarter recommendations.
Since we are just getting into April, and April is Autism Awareness Month, the first set of books is related to that topic. Unfortunately, for little more than a decade, autism goes hand in hand with vaccines, especially in the eye of the public. After much good news from the rational side of the "debate" last year, we saw more of the same at the beginning of this year, with the series of articles by Brian Deer in the British Medical Journal.
I mentioned those two books earlier, but now after actually reading both of them, I can safely recommend them.
The first one is Paul Offit's "Deadly Choices":

This is like getting your info from the very best source. Dr Offit's earlier books on the topic were as informative as this one is, and now we have the latest info included. He traces the history of the anti-vax movement in this and other countries, from its beginnings in the mid 19th Century to the latest Wakefield scam-induced craze. He also presents all the scientific, research-based facts about all the possible problems our society (and especially our children) would face, if we failed to contain the unreasonable and plain crazy arguments for the anti-vax side.
A logical follow-up to Offit's book is another one that came out almost at the same time: Seth Mnookin's "The Panic Virus".

While, some of the information in this book is similar to what's covered in the previous one, Mnookin, in addition to showing the history of the anti-vax movement, goes with much more details into specifics of the current autism/vaccine connection controversy and the associated social movements in the USA. It is very informative to see how various "parent" organizations that start off as grassroots movements, end up being a part of much greater industry, industry that makes millions every year selling unproven, costly, and sometimes deadly "medical" interventions. Another part is the "litigation" industry: law firms, lawyers, corrupt scientists, witnesses-for-hire and parents (some of them with good intentions), who are willing to make up facts and research in order to make money trying to prove the links that never existed. It is also heartbreaking to see how parents of autistic children are manipulated and given false hopes, just to drive this multi-million scam.

There is another angle to Mnookin's book that I find fascinating. Ever time I speak with someone about the alternative medicine, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic, etc, one of the main arguments in their arsenal is the "big pharma" making all the cash from us, pushing the traditional medical treatments, vs. good, alternative modalities and practitioners just caring about our well being. It takes some skillful research, like Mnookin's, to untangle the web of connections in the world of "alternative" autism research and treatments. The parallels are obvious and difficult to miss. The alt-med world is in it for profit as much as the big pharma is, the difference is they do not have to worry about anyone controlling them and they don't have to prove that any of their claims actually work.