Monday, September 08, 2008

The Truth is Out There

Wow.  How apropos is this?  Today, my wife and I took our son for his two-month shots.  Terrifying, I have to say.  All those needles lined up on the tray.  And the needles are long!  I had to hold my son down while the medical assistant jabbed him over and over.  And he didn’t like it.  Fortunately, yesterday he didn’t want to sleep much.  Seriously, all day we kept trying to get him to take a nap and he wouldn’t.  So today he’s sleeping off his injections and Children’s Tylenol pretty hard.  Better than having him awake and unhappy, I guess. 

All of this is so apropos because I just received my first copy, hot off the press, of Paul Offit, MD’s new book, AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS:  BAD SCIENCE, RISKY MEDICINE, AND THE SEARCH FOR THE CURE.  The pre-pub buzz about this book has been pretty huge.  Paul, as regular readers might now, is a lightning rod for those who believe vaccines cause autism.  As he says in the foreword to the book, he’s gotten death threats.  Paul is also the co-inventor of the RotaTech vaccine, has written a book about vaccines for parents, and is the author of VACCINATED, the biography of Maurice Hilleman, who invented quite a few of the vaccines my son has or will receive. 

For me, Paul is something of a dream client.  He’s unbelievably well qualified, handles the press extremely well, and he’s a darn good writer.  That this book will be received as being controversial is not in doubt, yet I think readers will find it incredibly reasonable and balanced.  When you consider that recent studies just published show—once again!—no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, you have to realize just how important Paul’s book is as a work of medical history, as well as an examination of the current controversy.  Because Paul explains how we ended up in this mess where people believe with every bone in their body that vaccines cause autism.

You can watch Paul discuss his new book here:

I suspect that some day they may come up with some genetic testing that will help show if a child will be autistic or have autism spectrum disorder, just as there is a test now to determine if a child will have Down syndrome.  If that day comes, perhaps it will bring some relief to those parents clearly looking for something—practically anything—to blame for their child’s autism.  In the meantime, though, I believe AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS at least offers some clarity for parents trying to better understand what faces them and, ideally, will help them ask serious questions of those who claim to offer a “cure” or “treatment” for their child. 

In the end, Paul’s book does all a good work of nonfiction should:  it engages the reader in a thought-provoking manner; provides powerful and important information; and makes compelling argument.  In the case of this book, the argument would be that we need to stop wasting money on litigation and quackery, but instead spend it on bona fide research to better understand and treat children with autism.  Imagine if we took all of that money spent on B12 shots, chelation, and suing the government and pharmaceutical companies and put it into researching a real treatment or cure.  Where might that lead us? 


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