I realize that Chris Mooney is a polarizing figure here on the ol’ ScienceBlogs, but I have to give him props for doing a damned fine job handling questions about vaccines, autism, and Andrew Wakefield’s utterly discredited 1998 Lancet study, which was retracted by the Lancet‘s editors last week:
I wish I could say the same thing for Nancy Snyderman. Although she was mostly right, I cringed–big time–when she insisted that there are no studies that show a link between vaccines and autism. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong! What she should have said is that there exist studies that show a link between vaccines and autism, but that they are all crap and many of them are published in highly dubious journals. Heck, I’ve even blogged about such crappy studies myself on multiple occasions over the years. I suppose you could argue that it’s all semantics and that, technically Snyderman is correct, but the way she says it makes it sound as though there are no studies out there on the other side, which is simply not true. The studies touted by the antivaccine propagandists as showing a link between vaccines and autism are all either preliminary studies refuted by later studies or bad science. Let’s also not forget that none of Wakefield’s followup studies to his 1998 Lancet article has been retracted. They’re still out there in the medical literature, even though, as Stephen Bustin showed, they are in essence false positives because the lab that ran the PCR on Wakefield’s samples was incompetently run. In any case, Snyderman’s statement grated on me and is the sort of thing that plays right into anti-vaccinationists’ hands when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of the fencesitters or parents who simply don’t know much about the issues involved.
It’s also interesting to note that Joe Scarborough, who, as you may remember, appeared to buy into the whole refuted thimerosal-autism link back in 2005 when Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. was pushing the link far and wide thrugh the media, appears to have rejoined the reality-based world. He seems to have spit out the Kool Aid and no longer appears to buy into the pseudoscience that falsely links vaccines to autism. I wouldn’t have thought it possible five years ago.
Finally, do you notice one more good thing about this video? That’s right, there’s no balance! There are no boosters of pseudoscience pushing the vaccine-autism link and pulling vaccine Gish gallop.
Even though Chris Mooney is right that the supporters of a vaccine-autism link won’t give up (heck, I’ve already written about that a couple of times), I see reason for optimism. The lazy journalistic trope of false “balance” seems to be giving way to letting the science speak.
A guy can dream, can’t he?
In any case, whatever you think of Chris Mooney, be aware that I’m giving him props here. He handled himself well in this case.