Posted by: Rob T | August 30, 2009

Dateline’s Dose of Controversy is an Opportunity Missed


  1. […] T. over at Science-Based Parenting blog just posted a review of tonight’s Dateline NBC special, Dose of Controversy. He says that although Matt Lauer […]

  2. Very nice summary/critique … and quick!

  3. I am a family practice physician as well as a father of a son with autism. While mainstream medicine has published many studies confronting this issue, most of these studies fail to meet scientific criteria or objectivity that would be required in most any other area of academia. I believe that there are genetic components and environmental triggers that lead to autism, and I believe (both personally and professionally) that vaccines are a factor. Count me in the group of “wackos” if you will…time and study will redeem one of us. God bless all of you who are dealing with this horrible diagnosis.

    • @Eric

      Please explain how the previous vaccine studies haven’t met scientific criteria (I have a list of them on my “vaccines” tab). When you say that most studies “failed to meet scientific criteria”, is this the same criteria that allowed Wakefield’s financially biased, likely fraudulent, disaster of a study of 12 children to be published in the Lancet? If you have such a problem with the existing studies approved by the CDC, the FDA, and other world health organizations, then what studies have led you to your “belief” that vaccines are a factor?

      It’s also important to note that Dr. Senn is a doctor of osteopathy, a medical practice founded by a Civil War surgeon who believed that he could cure whooping cough by strangling and shaking children. While some osteopaths respect modern science, there are a few on the spectrum that allow themselves to indulge in this type of speculation.

    • Eric, my husband and I are also with you. Dr. Krigsman has saved our son’s life. He started having debilitating diarrhea at 2.5 yrs and at age 6 still struggles with “autistic enterocolitis”. We had no idea he was on the autism spectrum until a diagnosis at age 4 and that the diarrhea was related. At age 4, he began to have panic attacks every day about going to preschool. He would at times have explosive diarrhea in his pants and the school would call me to pick him up thinking he was sick & contagious. After seeing Dr. Krigsman, getting a diagnosis and eventually getting him treated with meds, he took an about face, loves going to school within days of starting the meds and now at age 6, entered 1st grade with neuro-typical children. If it wasn’t for Dr. Krigsman, he would still most likely be in diapers all day and not functioning at the level he is today. My husband being a veterinarian, the smarter doctor out there (does not specialize in one small area but deals with the whole patient) has seen animals have adverse reactions to vaccines and believes there is no such think as a 100% safe vaccine. In developing countries people have actually died from having an adverse reaction to a vaccine with no staff on site to assist when they was a call for emergency. Hooray for Dr. Wakefield and Dr. Krigsman for putting their reputations on the line for what they know is right.

      • I also forgot to mention that Wakefield never said not to vaccinate. He is saying that he has concerns regarding the safety of the MMR since the children are being delivered with 3 live viruses at once. There is a readily available option of three separate vaccines for each virus (your pediatrician can special order these 3 separate vaccines) to assist a young child develop an immunity as their immune systems are just beginning to develop.

      • There is no such thing as a 100% safe vaccine. I will agree with that.

        Dr. Wakefield and Dr. Krigsman don’t have reputations because they squandered them using dubious methods. Doctors can’t go around giving colonoscopies to all their autistic patients without permission from administrators. Dr. Krigsman couldn’t follow protocol, and is now performing fringe science in Wakefield’s “house”.

        I’m sorry to hear about the diarrhea, but glad to hear that it’s all better. Autism and bowel problems may possibly be related, but that potential fact does not implicate MMR as the culprit of cause. Wakefield has a lot to answer for.

      • @ASDMom, you stated that “Wakefield never said not to vaccinate.”

        Whether or not Dr. Wakefield has ever said that (you might be right – I’m not trying to be cute here), the anti-vaccination movement HAS pushed that it is better to keep your child unvaccinated than risk getting thimerosal… no wait… squalene… And they do so with his blessing. The net result is the same. Parents are denying vaccines to their children, and not only are those children at risk, but other children who cannot receive vaccines are at greater risk from the loss of herd immunity.

  4. Hello,
    Thought you might be interested in the recent newsletter of Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT). The current issue features an essay on vaccine and autism and can be found at: and your readers can sign up for delivery of future newsletters at the site:
    Sorry for the guiltless plug — but thought it may be of interest. Thanks for your blog!

    • Thanks, Josh.

  5. Huh, I thought the overall message was largely on our side (I’m on your side). I agree with all of your specific criticisms, though. I just didn’t get as much of the “there are two equal sides!” feeling when it was over as you did.

  6. In my personal opinion after seeing the cross section of the cells infected with measles in the gut from Autistic children and watching a doctor speak on CNN many years ago about the same thing, I can’t help but wonder why anyone would want to discredit Dr. Wakefield, unless its about losing the bottom line form a billion dollar cash cow for Merck. (I’m pissing the author off, but remember, my opinion is shared by many and I respect your opinion as well).

    Please allow me to explain how I saw it:

    This Dateline Report actually exposed the politics of corporate pharmacology and who chooses who gets to be funded for research. In affect, It is not always a level playing field.

    As far as pulling on heart strings, I find it not necessary, when the parents have lost their future having to care for an Autistic child with years of a lack of hope in finding a cure. They are so exhausted that really, feelings are pretty much out the window, they are raw.

    Right now, many Austistic children who are diagnosed and treated by licensed physicians at the clinic in Austin, Texas are improving right now. This is fantastic and should be recognized as such for the parents who improve their overall quality of life when their child’s quality of life improves.

    At the end if the show, Matt Lauer had to say the statement “no connection with Autism and vaccines” as a legal requirement based on a court ruling.

    Now, here me out on this one!

    In contrast, there is a court ruling in Texas where teachers have to make a statement that Evolution is just a theory, but that doesn’t make it true, right?

    If you think a court ruling makes it true, then based on that logic, OJ Simpson is innocent!

    The point is that I believe this court ruling was a form of censorship.

    • It’s not Merck who discredited Wakefield, it’s his own co-authors, his unethical practices, and a journalist named Brian Deer. What’s the likely scenario, that one fringe doctor of questionable reputation has discovered a medical fact that every other reputable scientist is occluding? Or that the doctor in question is a fraud and his work is contaminated by human failure? Remember that in Wakefield’s case, he was the one who was funded by lawyers who wanted to sue the likes of Merck, not the other way around.

      Parents of children with autism should be offended by the suggestion that they’ve “lost their future”. The “pulling on heart strings” mentioned in the article was referencing how NBC is manipulating the average viewer, not just parents of autistic children. There are a lot of people in the middle, new parents and young couples, who are already irrationally fearful of having their children vaccinated, and now NBC treats shots like the gas chamber.

      In most cases, autism is not regressive. It should be no surprise that there are some improvements.

      The court ruling you reference was one where the lawyers presented their best cases, using the best available science, and were only required to prove reasonable doubt by 50.1%. I’d take those odds over OJ’s mangled jury trial. Let’s put it this way, how can the antivaccine crowd reference Hannah Poling’s victory and still say that the vaccine court is censoring the truth? That’s absurd.

  7. No drug or vaccine is 100% safe – there will always be someone who is allergic or sensitive to medication. The sooner people stop expecting modern medicine to be “100% safe” and have a realistic expectation of it, the better we will all be. What we do know, however, is that vaccinations have all but eradicated polio from the western world, reduced the likelihood of our children dying or being disfigured or blinded by measles, or dying from other preventable diseases. As a mother of a child with autism, and as a person with many drug sensitivities, I am sensitive to both sides of this discussion, but I have two children who are both vaccinated, I do not expect every medication to be “100 % safe”, and I would rather have my autistic daughter than one who died from a disease that could have been prevented by a vaccination. That being said, I do not accept the vaccination theory of autism: epidemiological studies of hundreds of thousands of children around the world have established there is no link. Wakefield’s flawed, ethically questionable and financially dodgy study of 12 children has never been replicated by any other study. Please explain “Dr” Wakefield?

  8. Is there a link to the video? Is it somewhere online?

    • Not yet.

  9. Also see the post from Bryan Vartabedian, who is a pediatric gastroenterologist, Wakefield’s last stand. Vartabedian said via twitter

    I’ve performed endoscopy on several hundred autistic children and have never seen anything resembling autistic enterocolitis

  10. Take away all the controversy about causes and triggers (of which I believe there might be many, and might be different for each child), and what bothers me is when people try to tell me how to feel about my son’s autism. Please don’t tell me I should feel offended by someone saying the “future is lost,” because that’s exactly how it felt at first (your response to LL James above). That is a perfectly normal response to a heavy diagnosis.

    The other thing that irritates me is when people assume we don’t know our children. When you talk about how progress should be expected (again, the LL James response), with the implication being that we can’t possibly tie our children’s progress to any sort of treatment is condescending at best, irresponsible at worst. I know my son’s stomach hurt, and while I don’t know what caused it, I do know he went from speaking in ONLY rote, echolalic language to full sentences and back and forth conversations within days of his belly issues being treated (after a scope/colonoscopy by a mainstream, prominent GI, BTW). And that treatment? Prevacid and probiotics. Hardly controversial. His stomach stopped hurting and his bowels became normal.

    So while everyone gets lost in the debate, parents will continue to treat their children’s pain where they can. And often with great success. I don’t care what caused it (I’ll leave that for the scientists to figure out), but I know my kid feels better and is better. Had we not gone with our gut and ignored our clueless peditrician who said there was nothing we could do, we’d still be in that position today. My son’s diagnosis went from classic autism to HFA/asperger’s within months. But ultimately all I care about is that he is healthy and happy. We will continue to strive for both.


    • You’re arguing that I was too harsh when I defended families of autistic children as having a future? Perhaps I should have phrased it to say that autistic individuals should be offended, since it seems that the parents feel like its valid to describe them as not having a future.

  11. I feel like whenever this topic comes up, so many arguments get thrown around that distract us from pointing out one undeniable fact:

    There is no significant difference in the autism rate between vaccinated and unvaccinated populations.

    That’s all that is required to totally debunk the anti-vaccinationists’ whole dog and pony show.

  12. Nope, not at all. If you could step down from arguing for a moment and read what I said instead of jumping down my throat…I said that I don’t like being told how to feel about my son’s autism. Yes, at first, it felt like all the plans we had for our child were lost, and that is a perfectly valid reaction. You get through that eventually, but damn if it isn’t hard at first when everything you thought you knew has changed. We had a non-verbal child who was in terrible pain. If it’s wrong to hope for a happy, healthy kid, then I guess I’m wrong. Call me crazy.

    And don’t tell me that I feel like it’s valid to describe my child as not having a future. Spend two seconds on my blog and see if you can call me anything but a loving, wonderful parent who only wants health and happiness for my child, whatever that means for him.

    I thought I could have a calm, rational discussion with you about some issues here. Apparently I was wrong. Lesson learned. What a horrible, horrible response you wrote to me. Shame on you.

    • asdmommy, it’s great that you were able to improve your son’s condition.

      I do agree that no outsider could know how it feels to be in such a position as yours (and even though any normal parent *imagines* the worst at times, the reality must be far different).

      I recall when my wife’s best friend found out that her son was HFA. Her reactions (both short- and long-term) mirror what you describe here and on your blog.

      I hope nothing but the best for you and C.

    • I am having a calm rational discussion. I don’t understand. At what point do you feel like you’re throat was jumped down?
      Don’t defend an argument that parents of autistic children are valid to feel like they’ve “lost their future” if you don’t really believe it. I never said it was wrong to “hope for a happy, healthy kid”. Quite the opposite if you take the time to interpret what I’m saying. And, of course, I don’t think that you or the other commenter really feel that life with an autistic child is without future, but referencing your own personal despair is also not a fair rhetorical argument. Just because I can’t personally identify with the difficulties of raising an autistic child doesn’t mean that I am incapable of discussing the issue, which is just the type of argument that some parents make when they argue the point.

      Do you regularly go around shaming people as if they were juveniles? Who is being condescending now?

      This is a science-based blog, which means that anecdotes will be challenged. I don’t have the time to read the archives of every blogger who makes a comment here, so I base my ultimate opinions on peer reviewed, published research. How am I supposed to know whether you treated your child’s digestion problems in isolation or whether you were also doing behavioral & speech therapy? How am I supposed to know whether your anecdote is an anomaly or whether it is consistent with most autistic parents? How am I supposed to know whether you have a confirmation bias and are attributing neurological improvements to prevacid and probiotics when those improvements would have happened anyway?

      The answer is that I don’t know. I’m not you, and I probably shouldn’t have responded in a way that could be interpreted as denial of what you experienced. I don’t mind being challenged, but argument by personal anecdote will not convince me. A better approach to commenting here would be to explain how treating the gut could possibly fix neurological symptoms, or by citing sources of quality researach. I’m not ruling out your success with treating autism by focusing on his digestion, but I’m also not going to take the word of one or two strangers when those anecdotes are used by discredited doctors such as Wakefield to link autism to MMR.

      Hopefully this response is less “horrible”. It seems like you’re being a bit sensitive about this conversation. I can imagine responses with much more vitriol and hate than any that I’ve presented here.

  13. Staggering debate. The only ‘laypeople’ in this discussion are those without autistic kids. Science doesn’t give us any meaningful explanations or pathways so we ignorant parents are indeed left to sort this situation out for ourselves…we are the hysterical ones shouting for help.

    The truth is, if science could explain autism in any meaningful way, you have a huge and growing audience waiting for that explanation. But what many of us see is a what appears to be a typically developing child who gets sick as hell from their vaccines and then begins displaying autistic behavior. Certainly there are dozens of plausible explanations for that timely coincidence but most parents haven’t heard a convincing one.

    Put it this way…if your kids came home from school and almost 10 out of 1000 of them developed some kind of severe illness, you would camp out in front of the school to have it closed until you had a decent explanation of what happened to your kids and were assured that the situation was resolved. If that failed, you certainly would not send your kid back to that school, even if that meant missing some of their education.

    Well, we have seen our kids become ill after being vaccinated. I would LOVE to believe there is no connection, especially since I have other kids who need vaccines as well. But our evidence suggests otherwise and that is all we have.

    So why is it so damned hard to have the medical community space out vaccines, test kids for antibodies prior to immunizing them to see if they are needed, etc.?

    It seems to me that if we take this path and see no appreciable decline in autism rates then we would have learned something important. And if we do see a decline, then we know to dig a bit deeper.

    So instead of having scientific intellectuals debate this situation from a distance, why not space out the shots and do titers and see what happens…who could that possibly hurt other than the pharmas who make so much from the vaccines or the intellectuals who need to be right despite a lot of empirical evidence?

    Your analogy about the flat world is just ignorant. The fact that you portray yourself as the side who advocates the world as round shows just how limited scientific thinking can be. remember that it was the scientists who first declared the world flat and then defended that position staunchly despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Their science at the time just didn’t and couldn’t support the notion of the world being round, even though there was clear evidence otherwise. Today, we accept that the earth is round and use it as an amusing analogy to show how stupid listeners are…ha ha.

    • It’s not true that scientists staunchly defended a flat earth. It was the common people who defended a two dimensional planet, and they were justified to do so based on their inability to see beyond the horizon.

      Everyone needs to be right, not just intellectuals. Believe it or not, there are scientific discoveries being made about autism that are revealing truths about the problem. It’s important to remember that even though there aren’t definitive answers, there are several clues, some of which may be uncomfortable for parents to hear, such as genetics playing a role. Are you willing to accept the answers if they don’t agree with your intuition, or should research try to force itself into the box in which it doesn’t fit?

      Here’s an example of real research with actual answers.

    • Science DOES have an answer – at least where the vaccines are concerned. The problem is there are loud opponents who are determined to undermine it for the benefit of their own personal beliefs.

      Science has already shown no link between the vaccination schedule and the onset of autism. No link between thimerosal/mercury and autism. All the personal anecdotes in the world don’t change that fact, because the human mind excels at finding patterns, even when none exist. That’s the whole point of the scientific method – to control the variables and get some actual causal relationships.

      Of course I expect a parent who sees a child become autistic shortly after a vaccine’s been administered to suspect there’s a link. And it was entirely appropriate to investigate that link. But we’re done with that. We’ve investigated, and it’s not the vaccines – it’s something(s) else.

      Everyone wants to know what causes autism. Everyone wants the numbers to start going the other way. Let’s focus on what might truly be causing it instead of wasting more time and effort to reconfirm the same studies over and over again so that vaccine opponents can anomaly-hunt them to their hearts’ content.

    • Gary, I couldn’t agree with you more, my son is autistic, and I get so angry watching these shows where all they do is argue back and forth, ego’s flying, I understand that doctor’s need medical evidence, but if you listen to the parent’s of autistic children, the onset of symptoms is the same, basically when I realized what was going on with my son, I thought to myself, when was the last time he hit one of his milestones, it was at 10 months, he walked, I remember him being sick around his 1st birthday, after that is when the stimming began, then I thought well it can’t be the mmr shot, that everyone is talking about,I don’t think he has had it yet, so I looked through all my paperwork from the pediatrician and there it was mmr shot at 12 months. I also remember what the nurse said to me, “he’ll be worse off if he doesn’t have the mmr shot” basically a scare tactic,do you have any idea what it feels like knowing that I held my child down as they gave him the shot, looking back now?
      I am so sick and tired of these doctors acting like they know everything, but now that my son has autism, sorry can’t really help you, then we are wacko’s for looking at other way’s to help our children?
      From all the testing that we have done with our dan doctor, it shows that our son has GI problems, is that a coincidence too. When are they going to stop and listen to us.

  14. I think we can all see the true colors behind this website…
    I believe that vaccines are a significant factor, but not a cause. I also believe Wakefield’s study was significantly flawed. I believe what I believe because of both study (in an allopathic residency by the way) and experience with many autistic children *including my own.*

    As for “science-based parenting”, science cannot prove the existence of God, but I teach a Creator to my children. The goal here is not to change your mind on such issues, but to at least explain where countless parents are coming from in their beliefs.

    Again, I wish all parents the best in your endeavors to find a cure for your children. I strongly urge parents to find an advocate Pediatrician to answer your questions and calm your fears regarding vaccinations and to determine if the current vaccination schedule is right for your child.

    • Your belief, Eric, does not factor into this equation. I asked you to specifically point out the flaws in the published peer reviewed literature, and you have dodged that question. If you’re going to insist that the data is flawed, then back up your assertions with proof.

      If science had an official color, then that would be the true color behind this web site. Impugning my motives will not justify your beliefs on the topic.

  15. interesting. can one of you explain the sense in ignoring the possible connection, though it may not be proven? I mean, why not spread out vaccines and do the pre-testing if we suspect that vaccines may cause illness in some cases, even if they doesn’t affect autism?

    I will add that I hope and pray for answers that don’t fit the way I think about this today. You should understand that parents typically feel a terrible sense of guilt about having done something to their kids that may have caused autism…don’t you think we want to hear that it was something out of our control rather than in our control and we were asleep at the wheel when we vaccinated them in big doses?

    Anyway…I have a lot of respect for science but there are clearly differing views of data and results. I don’t know if Wakefield did something shady or dumb and I don’t care. What I care about is at least reducing risks while we wait for cures and answers.

    We put labels on all kinds of products that say they ‘may cause cancer’ as an example. And we knew suspected those connections for years before good sense overcame the money behind tobacco. I suspect we are in a similar situation here.

    Lastly…I think most of us don’t believe that vaccines cause autism…I certainly do not. But I believe that the sudden and extreme attack on SOME kids immune systems probably does have this effect. I don’t know it but I suspect it. I don’t know that I’ll die if I jump off a bridge, but I suspect it. I don’t have to jump to prove it. In fact, what I do is avoid doing dumb things around bridges.

    So if there is any chance that a combination of sudden immune system attacks and pure genetics result in autism…why not mitigate the risk?

    If you told me that evidence suggests that exposure to sunlight plus genetics equals autism, I would reduce my kids’ exposure to sunlight (the only part of that equation I can do anything about). So show me any other evidence of some factor plus genetics that seem to lead to autism and then I can get excited about it. In the meantime, the only real waste of time is to spend a lot of cycles crapping on the guy who put his career at stake to help parents understand what is happening to their kids.

    • “interesting. can one of you explain the sense in ignoring the possible connection, though it may not be proven?”

      I think you misunderstand me. Not only has a link between the immunization schedule and autism not been proven, it has been DISproven. Children with different immunization schedules and even those who are not immunized do not display a statistically significant difference in autism rates.

      We all want to stop this, especially when it seems like – because of the way it presents – it might be preventable, but vaccines have been studied and then exonerated by the vast majority of scientists.

  16. I hear you but continue to see a hole in that argument but that is the nature of the problem…right? You can’t prove a negative. There is something causative about autism and in many cases, it appears to show up very shorty after a vaccine induced illness. I guess it is possible that it is just lying in wait to show up at the moment that vaccines are given and an adverse reaction sets in but that just doesn’t seem probable. I too used to read parents anecdotes about vaccines causing autism and I saw what you may see…parents desperate for an answer which is completely understandable but perhaps a bit annoying given the consequences of not vaccinating. But honestly when I saw my kid literally transform in a matter of days, I looked for what caused it…it was day and night and the only thing that occurred was an onslaught of vaccinations in London (we adopted our son in Vietnam while living in London).

    If I had found that he had been drinking goat;s milk and that other kids with autism showed symptoms after their 5th month of drinking goat’s milk, I would have started there.

    So if there is some other common thread in these kid’s environments then that would be great to know. But saying that there is no difference in autism rates between the vaccinated and the un-vaccinated is meaningless to the kids with autism. Their situation could still have been induced by a combination of genetics and vaccine induced illness. That connection just cant be disproven…wish it could.

    So again, why not just spread these out and make them safer? Even if they don’t induce autism, the combination of them in large doses poses risk of illness and adverse reaction. So why the hesitation to change? Money at the pharmas…

  17. Hi Rob,

    Even though it’s obvious you have an opinion, you’ve done a great job of objectively reviewing the Dateline program.

  18. Thanks, Ticktock and Rob, for your effort to engage in discussion with folks whose minds cannot be changed. I hope and believe that countless “silent” visitors to your blog are either like me (squarely in the vaccines-are-safe-and-hugely-effective camp) or, more importantly, though on the fence about vaccines, have minds open to science and reason.

  19. It would be equally nice to see that science maintains an open mind and does not shut off looking at this important possible agent.

    It is a good dialog, though and may help people understand both sides of the picture. In all likelihood, we will one day learn that neither of the two extreme views (vaccines cause autism…vaccines have absolutely no effect on autism) are both wrong. Science will get better, understanding of autism will get better.

    And if we’re very luck, perhaps one day our kids will get better.

    In the meantime, how about if we quit taking a chance with more kids’ futures?

    • “In the meantime, how about if we quit taking a chance with more kids’ futures?”

      But aren’t we “taking a chance” either way? It’s easy to think of measles and mumps as simple *inconveniences* like poison ivy or the common cold, but the fact is that they do kill.

      Gary, I appreciate the civil tone even though we disagree, and in continuing with that civility, I have a question: What evidence do you need to see to cause you to change your opinion of the vaccine/autism link?

      Multiple large, properly-controlled, peer-reviewed studies have shown no link. If that is not sufficient, what would be?

  20. Hmmmmm…good question. Unfortunately I think the nature of the problem is that there won’t be conclusive proof on something like this. It’s like taking your car in for an intermittent problem…you know it exists and the dealer can’t find or fix it. But you can’t prove it exists and he can’t prove it doesn’t. So who is ‘right’? Doesn’t really matter…what the dealer ultimately does is start replacing parts and making changes until you say the problem is gone.

    So I feel we are at the place where many parents see a problem and even feel they know what caused it…even some parents who are docs. The scientific community can’t find that connection and therefore doesn’t want to spend any more time on it…no science no connection.

    I say…fine. Then just provide an alternative that mitigates risk til science figures it out. If that mitigation was extreme and would cause other collateral or direct damage, I would not advocate it. But simply spacing out vaccines doesn’t fit that category. Doing it may never prove that a kid ‘avoided’ autism as a result, but who cares? Maybe it works and it can’t be proven.

    So I have to ask…why not do this? We aren’t talking about skipping vaccines…I have a daughter who we also vaccinated and will continue to do so at spaced out intervals. So aside from inconvenience tp parents the only reason I can fathom is resistance from the pharmas.

    • Gary,

      Your unstated premise is that vaccines definitely cause autism in some susceptible children, and that science hasn’t figured it out yet. The problem is that the medical community shouldn’t change important policies based on assumptions that can’t be proven. Delaying shots poses a risk to children, is not scientifically any better, and mandating a delay would only prove to panic everyone in the same way as when thimerosal was removed. Who would be held responsible if a mandate by the FDA caused a child to contract whooping cough because she followed a delayed schedule?

      If vaccines happened to be a factor in the cause of autism, isn’t it likely that the antigens, ingredients, and immune threats posed by the vaccine could be triggered by exposure to any number of various common contaminants in the environment? What I’m saying is, isn’t it likely that autism would happen with or without the vaccine? That’s saying that the hypothetical trigger is actually environmental, which it may or may not be.

    • Gary,

      Why on earth would a pharmaceutical company want to sell one dose of a combined vaccine rather than three doses of a separated one? What motivates their supposed resistance to spacing vaccines, in your mind?

  21. I am learning a lot from this conversation and therefore, appreciate it. Thanks to both of you.

    I am NOT trying to imply that I believe that vaccines definitely do anything except what they are intended to do. But I do think there is evidence that combining vaccines (and let’s be honest, we give a lot more of them here in the US than anywhere else) can lead to immune system problems and other illnesses. I believe that is all the Hannah Polling case showed. I met her dad and he was emphatic that he does NOT believe that vaccines caused Hannah’s autism. But he does believe that sticking her with a bunch at once made her extremely sick.

    So the question in my mind is whether or not that sickness can lead to other things. Every doctor I ask about immune system issues says it is a ‘new field’ with lots yet to learn. And they agree that it affects an awful lot of our health. So my simplistic logic tells me that if we introduce a bunch of attacks at once in a way that would almost certainly never be encountered in the wild, that we may be playing with fire. I don’t think that is a hard leap to make.

    Likewise, I don’t think that it was wrong to get parents up in arms about Thimerasol. If in fact, we were dosing kids with higher volumes of mercury than an adult would be tolerant of, then that is just bad medicine any way you slice it. ‘First, do no harm’, right. So mercury is one of the most toxic elements on earth…here’s about a ten years’ supply at once, kids. Just doesn’t add up and I am glad it was resolved. If the pharma industry was doing the right thing, they would have agreed that it should be removed/reduced and just taken care of it. Instead, since it was going to cost them some money, they fought it and everyone got to hear extremism from both sides…not good for anyone.

    Sorry to be long winded…we adopted my son in Vietnam, brought him to the US first, then to London where we lived at the time. He was vaccinated in Saigon, again in the US (because our docs told us not to trust crappy old Vietnamese vaccinations), and then again in London because they don’t like US vaccinations. Guess what…he got really sick.

    So do I believe that the antigens, ingredients, and immune threats are probably present elsewhere and may trigger autism in the same way (if in fact it is genetics plus trigger that make this happen). So if I could find the other places I would keep my kids from those as well. So far, I don’t see any other purposeful attacks on my kids’ immune systems of the magnitude of the vaccines. If I am wrong I would love to know it and take the right steps.

    Again…I do believe in vaccines. I just have to believe that there is a better way to figure out which ones are needed for each kid and then how to deliver them with the least risk.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful replies…helps me think this through. It is just a difficult situation.

    Are you guys both docs?

    • Neither of us are docs. We’re just reporting parenting news filtered through the lens of skepticism – a subculture of people who apply science and reasoning to extraordinary or unusual claims. Our arguments may be prone to flaws, and we will readily correct objective mistakes if we’re shown to be factually wrong.

      That being said, we both receive much of our information from the medical professionals (and fellow skeptics) at Most doctors shy away from controversy simply because they don’t have the time or patience to engage in the debate, but Dr. Novella, Dr. Gorski, and Dr. Offit (among others) are often on the front lines as leaders and representatives of scientific information. Because of their leadership, they are frequently accused of being bought and paid for by “big pharma”, but those accusations are so far without merit.

      Thanks for the conversation.

    • Hannah Polling had a genetic based mitochondrial disorder, which was triggered by a vaccine induced fever. Fever is the most frequent vaccine induced adverse reaction, and usually passes harmlessly. Hanah was uniquely vulnerable, but more to the point, it was the fever that triggered the mitochondrial disorder, not the vaccine itself. ANY severe enough fever would have done the same, it was just a coincidence that her fever was caused by a vaccine reaction and not an infectious disease.

      And although some of her symptoms have been loosly described as “autistic,” she does not actually have autism.

      • I didn’t mean to imply that she is representative of children with autism, just that it’s hypocritical of the antivaccine community to use her case to suit their agenda but declare the vaccine court biased in response to the autism omnibus.

        Thanks for your reply.

  22. Gary… No, much to my mother’s chagrin, I am not a doctor.

    One interesting point to consider (from

    “Vaccine critics say the increased vaccine schedule overwhelms the immature immune systems of young children. However, while the number of vaccines has increased, they are more targeted due to improved technology and scientific knowledge. Today’s vaccine schedule contains about 150 antigens (immune stimulating proteins), which is less than the 200 proteins that older vaccines contained.”

    So we have actually reduced the workload on the immune system, even though we are combining vaccines.

  23. Cheers, guys. I hope you are both right and that another cause makes itself evident soon. Find the cause, find the cure.

    This is an extremely difficult issue to deal with for parents…equal measures of guilt, ignorance, anger, and grief. There is hope mixed in but it is in small doses. So you guys see the result…someone offers up a plausible explanation that matches a lot of situations and parents grab it (me included) because it is the only viable explanation available.

    Are we desperate? You bet we are. Are we stupid? No we aren’t. We spend our days and nights and waste away our marriages trying to find a solution for our individual children and it makes us angry when we see a possible cause being crapped on.

    So try to forgive parents who address this purely from emotion…it is often because everything else is spent.

    Best wishes to both of you and to anyone involved in this battle. Let’s hope that right conquers cash, whatever the outcome.


    • Right back at you, Gary. Thanks again for the discourse. People might disagree on the best way to attack these issues, but we all have the same goal.

      I hope nothing but the best for you and your family.

  24. Gary,

    I don’t know how disabled your son is. I have an almost 8-year-old who is a highly functional autistic and we’ve been fortunate in that he’s gotten better w/age, early intervention, and lots of attention from his parents 🙂 I hear you – there’s NOTHING more heartbreaking than a disabled child, especially when you worry whether he’ll ever be able to be an independent adult.

    But my reaction to the anti-vaccine, DAN!, Generation Rescue, etc. crowd is the opposite of yours. I get incredibly angry that they are exploiting parents at their most vulnerable with unproven and dangerous modalities and undermining public health in unknowable ways by discouraging new parents from vaccinating their children.

    I get furious at the fact that the anti-vaccine campaigns draw resources – precious scarce research dollars and energies – away from productive research (what is the real cause of autism? what therapies help autistic kids function?) and toward disproving, time and time again, the link between autism and vaccines.

    There is no cure for autism but there are therapies—speech, physical, etc.—that have empirically been shown to help autistics. There are also support groups of parents who struggle with the same challenges as you but don’t go down the rabbit hole of conspiracy theories, alt med, etc. If you are lucky enough to live in a school district with a decent tax base (as I am), there are school-based professionals who will help you and your boy during his school years.

    I so hope that you find those resources in your community. Best of luck to you and your family!

  25. […] SkepticDad, who felt the show was weak; […]

  26. Gary, you said “I don’t know if Wakefield did something shady or dumb and I don’t care. What I care about is at least reducing risks while we wait for cures and answers.” I absolutely do care if Wakefield did something shady or dumb, because he is responsible for starting this debate, and he is still hauled out and interviewed as an ‘expert’. It is important that if we are going to continue this debate, the people on both sides are credible. Wakefield is not credible on any level, yet people still listen to him as if he was, yet scientists who have followed proper scientific processes are ignored by some parents because they are not saying what they want to hear.

    Regarding MMR – this has been found NOT to be the cause of autism. In Japan MMR was discontinued as a vaccine because there was a problem with their supply. It was removed from their schedule. Autism rates continued to rise. Wakefield’s research was flawed and based on a study of 12 children, which he was being paid to undertake by a lawyer with an interest in finding that result. No double blind study, no controls, no larger study, no peer review, no epidemiological study on his behalf. What has followed since is all of those studies: the result – no connection between MMR and autism.

    Thimerosal: – has been studied over and over again. Epidemiological studies in many countries, hundreds of thousands of children. Children with autism, children without. Vaccinated, unvaccinated. No connection between autism and thimerosal. Thimerosal has been removed from vaccines, and the rates continue to rise, long after there should have been a drop if it was the cause.

    Now that the two main hypotheses for vaccine induced autism have been resoundingly debunked, there is apparently a new reason – immune overload.

    I am sorry. Wishing won’t make it so. I am a parent of a child who is autistic. I know she was autistic from the day she was born – I just didn’t know it at the time. Looking back, I can see the signs. As a parent, with no experience of autism, I missed those signs. When I had my second child and held her in my arms, I knew she wasn’t autistic. I just knew it. My experience with an autistic child taught me to recognise the difference. And I did not hesitate to have her vaccinated.

    I understand the need for some people to find an answer. I understand the need for some parents to want to find a cure. It is not a need I personally feel. I respect the parents here who feel that their child is helped by biomed. My child is helped by the gluten/dairy free diet. I believe that to be so. I also believe that no-one knows my child better than me. But I am not going to jump up and down and proudly announce my PhD in Google – I accept that I am not a scientist. It is not logical to completely rely on one debunked scientist because you like what he says, and then refuse to accept the findings of study after study on the basis that science doesn’t know everything.

  27. I’m a parent, and I’m amused by the fact that you have a vaccine ad at the end of this article.

  28. My son was autistic from the day he was born. His father videotaped nearly every breath that poor baby took for two years! After his diagnosis I sat for a whole day and watched those videos. It was right in front of my nose….

    Add to that when we got our son dx’d, my husband was dx’d. It explained a lot. My husband is in his mid-40’s and so received very few vaccines as a child.

    I joined a very helpful forum where I found adults of all ages, from many continents, who are autistic. MOST were never diagnosed as children, or dx’d improperly.

    The largest crime I feel is those who offer false hope. The Jenny McCarthy’s of the world.

    Children with autism can improve, our own son changed by leaps and bounds. No doctors, no medicine, no diet changes. We worked with him one on one, helped him to learn coping skills to live in our world.

    Vaccines are essential. They save untold numbers of lives each year.

    • Goddess… Thanks for your note.

      I really appreciate your story – no blame and no miracle cures. You’re dealing with it, and it’s WORKING.

      May you continue to have great success.

  29. I too have seen my son improve greatly. But in his case, he improved through diet intervention, direct behavioral therapy, and generally just a lot of work. I’m glad your son improved with none of that help, but don’t suggest that it isn’t necessary in other cases.

    I see a lot of autistic kids from a lot of different backgrounds. My wife and I created a school that supports therapy for autistic kids and integrates them with typical kids. So I hear a lot of different stories about what is working for each child and what parents believe the root cause may have been. The parents speculate because the docs offer NO explanation…only crap on others.

    But the message is that every case is different. So you can’t imply that autistic kids will all get better without diet or behavioral intervention. Nor can someone suggest that ALL autism is caused or influenced by vaccines.

    But if your kid eats spoiled food and gets sick, you would be hard pressed to look past the spoiled food as a source of the illness. Likewise for vaccines. You don’t have a couple of parents with interesting coincidental timing ranting that vaccines screwed up their kids. You have lots and lots of educated parents seeing kids get sick immediately after vaccines and then show obvious signs of autism. Could the kids have had signs of autism prior to the vaccines and the parents didn’t notice them? Almost certainly. Does that mean that the vaccines didn’t in some way accelerate or aggravate the condition? No.

    I just don’t get this argument at all. It may be that vaccines are proven conclusively (against all circumstantial evidence to the contrary) not to influence autism in any way. But that doesn’t change the reality that we dose the crap out of our kids and that some get sick from it with very adverse reactions.

    So I ask again…why the resistance to the change in protocol for vaccines/ You guys act like those of us who are suspicious about vaccines want them banned or something ridiculous like that. Get over it…that isn’t the case. We just want the protocol changed to be reasonable and reduce risks.

    There is simply no valid argument against changing this and doing it now.

  30. I think you are right and that this was an opportunity missed.

    At the same time, some good information came out. Also, I think, Dr. Wakefield managed to make some comments on tape that demonstrably wrong (his comment about his patent, for example, is completely at odds with the facts).

  31. […] Steiner, Anthroposophy, and Waldorf Woo Science-​​Based Parenting — Dateline’s Dose of Controversy is an Opportunity Missed Skepfeeds — You’re Wrong The Skeptical Teacher — Evolution in U.S. Public Schools: […]

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