I just read Matthew Herper’s piece on Forbes about vaccines and autism and about Donald Trump and Bill Gates. And also about why it is so dangerous for famous people to use their position to talk about things they do not fully understand.
To summarize, Trump talked about the excessive number of vaccines given to babies, how it could lead to autism which has risen greatly over the last decades. He is not the first to do so, but the pivotal study on autism and vaccines by Andrew Wakefield has been withdrawn as fraudulent – there simply is no link between the two. Bill Gates (who’s work with his foundation means he is a lot better informed on this issue than Donald Trump) clarified that point rather succinctly – that people not vaccinating their kids against measles means that some kids will get measles and some of those kids will die.
The part of Herper’s piece that really got me was this quote:
These kinds of worries hit us right in parts of our brains that have little to do with the analysis of data from scientific studies. When my kids got their shots, I remember being nervous about the autism link, even though I didn’t believe it. Because when you’re holding an infant, the thought that you might be doing something to hurt them is simply terrifying.
It got me because I have been there. And more than that, I got to think back on that moment later because my eldest son was diagnosed with mild autism. He’s doing fine now, but he did not even begin to speak until he was 3 years old. He seems to be making up for that now. He has some trouble concentrating on stuff he doesn’t particularly want to do (like homework) and you can barely drag him away from something that he does want to do. But he is doing well.
Do I blame the vaccines? I do not. Because I can look back also at my family tree, as well as my wife’s family tree, and we can see some signs of autistic spectrum behavior in our ancestors and even a little in ourselves. No, I think the rise in the number of autistic cases is due to detection not increased causation, that the area has recognized a spectrum of autistic disorders, many of which would not have been seen as such years ago, merely eccentric or quirky.
What we don’t need is people spouting nonsense they have no business spouting.