Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure

Autism's False Prophets: Bad Science, Risky Medicine, and the Search for a Cure

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by Paul A. Offit
     
 

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A London researcher was the first to assert that the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine known as MMR caused autism in children. Following this "discovery," a handful of parents declared that a mercury-containing preservative in several vaccines was responsible for the disease. If mercury caused autism, they reasoned, eliminating it from a child's system

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Overview

A London researcher was the first to assert that the combination measles-mumps-rubella vaccine known as MMR caused autism in children. Following this "discovery," a handful of parents declared that a mercury-containing preservative in several vaccines was responsible for the disease. If mercury caused autism, they reasoned, eliminating it from a child's system should treat the disorder. Consequently, a number of untested alternative therapies arose, and, most tragically, in one such treatment, a doctor injected a five-year-old autistic boy with a chemical in an effort to cleanse him of mercury, which stopped his heart instead.

Children with autism have been placed on stringent diets, subjected to high-temperature saunas, bathed in magnetic clay, asked to swallow digestive enzymes and activated charcoal, and injected with various combinations of vitamins, minerals, and acids. Instead of helping, these therapies can hurt those who are most vulnerable, and particularly in the case of autism, they undermine childhood vaccination programs that have saved millions of lives. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence clearly shows that childhood vaccines are safe and does not cause autism. Yet widespread fear of vaccines on the part of parents persists.

In this book, Paul A. Offit, a national expert on vaccines, challenges the modern-day false prophets who have so egregiously misled the public and exposes the opportunism of the lawyers, journalists, celebrities, and politicians who support them. Offit recounts the history of autism research and the exploitation of this tragic condition by advocates and zealots. He considers the manipulation of science in the popular media and the courtroom, and he explores why society is susceptible to the bad science and risky therapies put forward by many antivaccination activists.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Attempting to answer the enormous frustration and unhappiness of parents "tired of watching their autistic children improve at rates so slow it's hard to tell if they are improving at all," pediatrics professor and vaccine researcher Offit explores purported causes and cures. Examining false approaches like facilitated communication ("a massive, nationwide delusion") and secretin injections ("no better than salt water"), and mistaken theories of origin (the MMR vaccine, thimerosol), Offit pleads with journalists to resist the lure of "dramatic headlines, advertising dollars, and ratings" rather than report an unconfirmed or untrustworthy study. The only worthwhile studies, Offit purports, are those meeting three criteria: "transparency of the funding source, internal consistency of the data, and reproducibility of the findings." Overall, Offit's text seems unbalanced: though he takes on the "$40-billion-a-year" alternative medicine industry, he's largely silent on the much larger pharmaceutical industry; and after 10 chapters of debunking the "false prophets," there's just one brief chapter on what is known about autism causes and cures. A thorough and convincing debunker, however, Offit will likely leave parents still hunting for information, albeit better armed to find it.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Autistic children, their desperate parents, unscrupulous doctors, and opportunistic lawyers call forth the "false prophets" whom physician Offit resolutely confronts here. Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, he is well placed to marshal extensive evidence to discount theories that either mercury preservatives in vaccines or the NMR inoculations in particular (the most commonly cited culprits) are linked to increasing autism rates. He challenges other "false prophets" who attempt to market expensive, unproven, and even life-threatening treatments to frantic, vulnerable parents. While tempers flare over the merits of suspect cures and vaccine-liability claims, funds are diverted from badly needed social services for autistic children, and far more productive paths of autism research remain unexplored. Kathleen Seidel, a Columbia University-trained librarian, is one of the stars of the text. Her web site, www.neurodiversity.com, seeks to portray the strengths and the struggles of autistic children and those who care for them; her research skills allowed her to ferret out the dubious scientific standards and financial conflicts of interest of well-known advocates of questionable treatments and theories. Though Offit does not offer easy answers to readers on the autistic spectrum and those who love them, his thoughtful and readable study is recommended for academic libraries and institutions supporting communities with a strong interest in autistic spectrum disorders.
—Kathy Arsenault

Rosalynn Carter
Every child has a right to be vaccinated against deadly diseases. We started Every Child By Two to protect children from diseases. It didn't occur to me that I would also have to protect them from misinformation about life-saving vaccines. Paul A. Offit's book sets the facts straight.

Susan Jacoby
Autism's False Prophets is a compelling story of heartbroken parents, understandably desperate for an explanation of autism, being taken in by false hopes unsupported by genuine science. This book goes to the heart of a question that affects every aspect of American culture and political life. Are public policies to be determined by evidence and reason or by emotions that, however intense they may be, have nothing to do with reality?

Peter C. Doherty
A definitive analysis of a dangerous and unnecessary controversy that has put the lives of children at risk. Paul A. Offit shows how bad science can take hold of the public consciousness and lead to personal decisions that endanger the health of small children. Every parent who has doubts about the wisdom of vaccinating their kids should read this book.

Susan K. Klein
In his latest book Paul A. Offit unfolds the story of autism, infectious diseases, and immunization that has captivated our attention for the last decade. His lively account explores the intersection of science, special interests, and personal courage. It is provocative reading for anyone whose life has been touched by the challenge of autism spectrum disorders.

Salon.com - Rahul K. Parikh
Enlightening, highly readable and... timely.

New York Post - Robert Goldberg
Arguably the most courageous and most knowledgeable scientist about vaccines in the United States.

Philadelphia Inquirer - Huntly Collins
[Dr. Offit] has done a huge public service by exposing the tragic and dangerous place the anti-vaccine hysteria has taken us.

Wall Street Journal - Linda Seebach
An invaluable chronicle that relates some of the many ways in which the vulnerabilities of anxious parents have been exploited.

About.com - Lisa Jo Rudy
A good read and an important piece of work.

SEED Magazine
More than a book about a disease, it is an ode to uncorrupted science and a cautionary tale that data alone is never enough.
The Bulletin - Dom Giordano
A very good read.

Neurology Today - Isabelle Rapin
A sobering indictment.

Infectious Diseases in Children - Stan L. Block
A fascinating read... Eloquently and clearly written.

Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine - Brian Alverson
The book is a fantastic read. I recommend it to all physicians and their patients and families.

Social History of Medicine - Michael Fitzgerald
This is a powerful book which should be read by all professionals working in the area ofmedicine.

BioScience - Patricia M. Rodier
Paul A. Offit is one of the most respected scientists and clinicians in a field of vital importance to public health.

Philadelphia Magazine - Jason Fagone
[This] book doesn't just show that the anti-vaccine activists are wrong; it attempts to explain why, in our culture, they tend to win.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders - Roy Richard Grinker
Arguably the most detailed and thorough history available of the current anti-vaccine movement.

Journal of Child Neurology - Roger A. Brumback
[A] must-read... it will keep pediatricians and pediatric neurologists awake over the nightmarish possibilities of pseudoscience in the 21st century.

Metapsychology - Leo Uzych
The vast range of professionals who may be enriched, professionally, by the book's contents extends to: psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, neuroscientists, speech pathologists, pediatricians, primary care physicians, geneticists, virologists, immunologists, vaccine experts, nurses, infectious disease experts, internists, gastroenterologists, epidemiologists, public health professionals, special education teachers, bioethicists, biochemists, biologists, biostatisticians, endocrinologists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, pharmaceutical industry professionals, health policy makers, journalists, politicians, and trial lawyers.

Choice
Highly recommended.

Salon.com
Enlightening, highly readable and... timely.

— Rahul K. Parikh, M.D.

New York Post
Arguably the most courageous and most knowledgeable scientist about vaccines in the United States.

— Robert Goldberg

Philadelphia Inquirer
[Dr. Offit] has done a huge public service by exposing the tragic and dangerous place the anti-vaccine hysteria has taken us.

— Huntly Collins

Wall Street Journal
An invaluable chronicle that relates some of the many ways in which the vulnerabilities of anxious parents have been exploited.

— Linda Seebach

About.com
A good read and an important piece of work.

— Lisa Jo Rudy

SEED magazine
More than a book about a disease, it is an ode to uncorrupted science and a cautionary tale that data alone is never enough.

Buffalo News
[Offit] provides important insight into the fatal flaws of the key arguments of vaccine alarmists.

The Bulletin
A very good read.

— Dom Giordano

Neurology Today
A sobering indictment.

— Isabelle Rapin, M.D.

Infectious Diseases in Children
A fascinating read... Eloquently and clearly written.

— Stan L. Block, MD

The New England Journal of Medicine
A very helpful book for both medical personnel and parents.

Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine
The book is a fantastic read. I recommend it to all physicians and their patients and families.

— Brian Alverson, MD

Social History of Medicine
This is a powerful book which should be read by all professionals working in the area ofmedicine.

— Michael Fitzgerald

BioScience
Paul A. Offit is one of the most respected scientists and clinicians in a field of vital importance to public health.

— Patricia M. Rodier

Philadelphia Magazine
[This] book doesn't just show that the anti-vaccine activists are wrong; it attempts to explain why, in our culture, they tend to win.

— Jason Fagone

Communication: The Magazine of the National Autistic Society
Detailed but easily readable... should be required reading for any parents who are considering denying vaccination to their children.

Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders
Arguably the most detailed and thorough history available of the current anti-vaccine movement.

— Roy Richard Grinker

Journal of Child Neurology
[A] must-read... it will keep pediatricians and pediatric neurologists awake over the nightmarish possibilities of pseudoscience in the 21st century.

— Roger A. Brumback, M.D.

Metapsychology
The vast range of professionals who may be enriched, professionally, by the book's contents extends to: psychologists, psychiatrists, neurologists, neuroscientists, speech pathologists, pediatricians, primary care physicians, geneticists, virologists, immunologists, vaccine experts, nurses, infectious disease experts, internists, gastroenterologists, epidemiologists, public health professionals, special education teachers, bioethicists, biochemists, biologists, biostatisticians, endocrinologists, pharmacists, pharmacologists, pharmaceutical industry professionals, health policy makers, journalists, politicians, and trial lawyers.

— Leo Uzych

Midwest Book Review
Seeking to help readers realize the truth about Autism, Autism's False Prophets is a much need read, not to be missed.

Communication: The Magazine of the National Autistic Society
Detailed but easily readable... should be required reading for any parents who are considering denying vaccination to their children.
Seed magazine
More than a book about a disease, it is an ode to uncorrupted science and a cautionary tale that data alone is never enough.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780231517966
Publisher:
Columbia University Press
Publication date:
09/29/2008
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
328
Sales rank:
188,056
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

Paul A. Offit, M.D. is the chief of Infectious Diseases and the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He has received numerous awards, including the J. Edmund Bradley Prize for Excellence in Pediatrics from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, the Young Investigator Award in Vaccine Development from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, and a Research Career Development Award from the National Institutes of Health. An international expert on rotavirus-specific immune responses, Dr. Offit is the coinventor of the rotavirus vaccine RotaTeq, for which he received the Jonas Salk Award from the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology, the Gold Medal from the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the Stanley A. Plotkin Award in Vaccinology from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society. He has donated all royalties from sales of this book to autism research.

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