I know I’ve been hard on a lot of legislators, including woo-friendly clods such as Tom Harkin, Ron Paul, and Dan Burton. Occasionally, though, a legislator will show that he “gets it” (or at least hasn’t drunk the Kool Aid). Forwarded to me was a letter sent from Representative John Linder (R-GA) in response to a letter from the Autism Action Network, apparently upset over the IACC’s not being as excited about throwing good money after bad studying the scientifically discredited notion that vaccines cause autism. Here is Mr. Linder’s response, and it’s a good one (for a politician, anyway):
Thank you for contacting me to express your support for increased Federal funding for autism research. I appreciate hearing from you on this issue.
While I understand that many parents of children struggling with autism blame vaccines for the onset of the disease, the science on this issue overwhelmingly suggests that vaccines do not cause autism. In fact, I am sure that you are aware of a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims which specifically rejected arguments that thimerosal in certain vaccines and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine caused autism in children.
While nobody is completely certain about the causes of autism, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has concluded that the most likely cause of autism is genetics. Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with autism, and studies of people with autism have found common irregularities in several regions of the brain. Other studies have shown abnormal levels of serotonin and other neurotransmitters in children with autism as opposed to children who show no signs of the disease. According to the NIH, the abnormalities suggest that autism could result from the disruption of normal brain development early in fetal development caused by defects in the how the brain regulates growth and neuron communication. In addition, a recent study in Israel has added momentum to the theory that genetics is responsible for autism. The study, which concluded in 2006, showed that the older a man was when fathering a child, the more likely it was that the child would have autism then a child with a young father. Even with this new research in mind, the NIH is still committed to continued autism research in order to better understand the disease. I support this goal.
You should know that I have twice successfully supported doubling Federal research funds for the NIH. I wholeheartedly believe that it is the responsibility of the Federal government to support scientific research to understand the causes of disease and to develop cures for those diseases. As such, I will continue to support NIH funding and research activities.
Thank you again for contacting me. If I may be of any further assistance to you, please do not hesitate to call on me.
It’s rare to see such a reasonable and knowledgeable response on this issue by a legislator. If you happen to live in his district, consider writing him a letter of congratulation. You know the antivaccine movement will be sending him their usual screeds.