The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic

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Much of the public discussion about autism has missed the point about the possible causes. To solve this question, two writers began digging into the history of other degenerative neurological disorders. Their research led them to discover incredible and previously unacknowledged links between a strain of syphilis which left suffers raving mad, the spike in incidence of schizophrenia during the Industrial Revolution, and the hidden commonalities between the parents of the ...

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The Age of Autism: Mercury, Medicine, and a Man-Made Epidemic

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Much of the public discussion about autism has missed the point about the possible causes. To solve this question, two writers began digging into the history of other degenerative neurological disorders. Their research led them to discover incredible and previously unacknowledged links between a strain of syphilis which left suffers raving mad, the spike in incidence of schizophrenia during the Industrial Revolution, and the hidden commonalities between the parents of the first children diagnosed with autism in the 1930s. 

The Age of Autism connects these dots to form a startling new thesis: behind each of these disorders – and many more – was exposure to mercury, the most toxic non-radioactive substance known to man.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“A devastating account... autistic children are the canaries in the coal mine.” —Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

"Anyone concerned with environmental health owes it to themselves to read this book."

—David Kirby, author of Evidence of Harm

"Make sure your doctor sees a copy of this timely book."—Dierdre Imus

Publishers Weekly
Journalist Olmstead and independent researcher Blaxill enter the fray of the autism controversy, arguing that, just as mercury's toxic effects in treating syphilis and teething pain were long ignored, the same type of denial is happening now with respect to autism and other illnesses the authors say are linked to mercury exposure in the environment and in childhood vaccines. But other than providing information on mercury exposure in seven of the 11 individuals first diagnosed with autism, they offer little new material. Second, they uncritically present the opinions of those who assert the autism-vaccine link while virtually ignoring contrary scientific views (e.g., the World Health Organization has repudiated any such link). Third, they stake out new ground by accusing scientists and government agencies of creating a conspiracy to defend vaccines as safe. They state, without supporting evidence: "Much of what the medical industry and public health community has produced on the question of autism and vaccines has been propaganda masquerading as science." Readers looking for an unbiased examination of whether there is a link between vaccines and autism will not find enlightenment here. (Sept.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312547097
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 9/13/2011
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,398,251
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.80 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

DAN OLMSTED is an award-winning journalist and MARK BLAXILL is the author of several scientific papers challenging mainstream research on autism. Together they manage the blog Age of Autism.

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Read an Excerpt

We believe that autism was newly discovered in the 1930s for the simple reason that it was new. The organic chemicals industry that grew out of chemical warfare research during World War I led to new commercial uses for mercury, including the introduction of an extraordinarily toxic compound made from ethylmercury. This, our research suggests, led directly to the first cases of autism. Among the parents of those first eleven cases described in 1943, you will meet a plant pathologist experimenting with ethylmercury fungicides in Mary land; a pediatrician in Boston who was an early champion of mass vaccinations containing ethylmercury; and a stenographer in a pathology lab in Washington, D.C., who spent her workday exposed to mercury fumes while her future husband, a psychiatrist, treated syphilis with mercury just as Freud had done decades earlier. Several other families cluster around the medical profession, agriculture, and forestry— the three biggest risk factors for exposure to mercury in its newest and most toxic form. Psychiatrist Leo Kanner provided some clues to the backgrounds of these early parents— such as their professions— but our investigation uncovered dramatic new details about what the parents were doing when each child was born and in the critical years before that.

By the time our research was done, we had worked our way through newspaper clippings, professional archives, city directories, cemetery records, ancestry searches, last- known addresses, and libraries from Washington, D.C., to Moscow, Idaho. We found and interviewed family members of several of the first eleven children; most memorably, we met two of those “cases” ourselves. At the end of our search, we talked with “Case 1: Donald T.” around the kitchen table in his lifelong home in the small lumber town of Forest, Mississippi. By any measure, he has fared astonishingly well. President of his college fraternity and later the Forest Kiwanis Club, a pillar of his Presbyterian church, he had a long career at the local bank, plays a competitive game of golf, and regularly travels the world. We learned how “Donald T.” went from being the first unmistakable case of autism to the first unmistakable case of recovery. He also reminds us how recent autism is— the space of one man’s lifetime: “Donald T.” turned seventy- seven in September 2010.

Leo Kanner’s original cases, linked only by this overlooked association with mercury, suggest that from the very beginning autism was an environmentally induced illness— a toxic injury rather than something inherited or inculcated. Certainly, some children were more susceptible to mercury exposure— and that may implicate genetic vulnerabilities.  This is very different, however, from saying that autism is an inherited genetic disorder.

Tragically, the best and the brightest in science and medicine have missed these clues from the start, blinded first by the belief the parents were responsible and then by their ongoing pursuit of the “autism gene.” The Great Autism Gene Hunt has come up empty— but continues to drain off millions of dollars and thousands of hours that should go to more promising environmental research.

Having thoroughly failed to solve the autism puzzle, the medical industry is putting forth a new wave of epidemic deniers to claim autism isn’t really increasing after all. Simply put, this idea is nonsense; and sadly, it prolongs the epidemic and prevents the urgent response this public health crisis demands.

In tracing the history of autism, we cannot avoid discussion of what we have already acknowledged as a controversial topic: vaccines. Some critics have labeled us antivaccine for even broaching the subject. But our interest has more to do with vaccination as a risk factor, perhaps one of several. We want to state explicitly that we support vaccines as long as they are individually and collectively tested for safety, and not deployed excessively, as part of an overall policy to promote childhood health. We are not antifungicide or antivaccine or anti- anything but autism. We support progress and innovation. (Mercury was removed from fungicides in the 1970s for safety reasons after several episodes of mass poisoning.) We don’t want crops to wither, or houses to rot, or children to die of vaccine- preventable illnesses. We simply want to stop an autism epidemic whose origin we believe can be discerned from a careful examination of its environmental history.


Copyright © 2010 by Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill.  Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

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Table of Contents

Foreword David KiIrby ix

Introduction: The Seed 1

Part 1 The Roots

Chapter 1 The Age of Syphilis 19

Chapter 2 The Age of Hysteria 56

Chapter 3 The Age of Acrodynia 84

Chapter 4 Pollution 109

Chapter 5 Targeted Toxins 137

Part 2 The Rise

Chapter 6 Germination 163

Chapter 7 The Wrong Branches 200

Chapter 8 Growing Like a Weed 233

Chapter 9 Fruit of the Poisoned Tree 260

Chapter 10 Digging Up the Roots 295

Epilogue: The Nightmare and the Dream 347

Acknowledgments 365

Appendix A Notes on the Tuskegee Studies 371

Appendix B Selected Papers and Patents of the Plant Pathology Network 374

Endnotes 377

index 407

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 14, 2010

    POwerful implacations

    Having heard quite a bit about mercury in the news, I was curious to find out the real story behind the possible threat. I was amazed to learn that not only has mercury been used for centuries in various medical treatments, but in every case there seems to be a corresponding disorder which stems from its use.

    The first half of the book explores these episodes of medical history including the rise of syphilis, the cases of hysteria in Freud's Vienna, and the spike in mental illness which occurred during the Industrial Revolution. This section is truly eye opening about how environmental agents have been affecting human health for a long, long time.

    In the second half of the book, the authors recount the first diagnosed cases of autism. In researching these anonymous case studies, they managed to identify the children and their families, and in doing so, uncovered a shared element between the parents of the kids. Almost all of them had some form of chemical connection to mercury compounds through their profession- they were doctors, lab technicians, scientists, biologists, all dealing with chemical compounds which contained mercury.

    I found the combination of historical case studies with their review of the biology of autism made a very strong case for an environmental model of this disorder--which has implications not only for autism but for the way we currently perceive disease.

    I was skeptical in coming to this book to see how they would treat the controversial vaccine issue. I am hesitant about anyone claiming that we should stop vaccinating our children, but I found no such argument in this book. The authors stress that they support vaccine safety, not vaccine cessation, and the information they provide about the history of mercury in vaccines is invaluable for any parent. Thought-provoking read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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