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

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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.

Columbia University Press

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Editorial Reviews

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.

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.

Choice

Highly recommended.

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.
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

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780231146371
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press
  • Publication date: 3/22/2010
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 328
  • Sales rank: 419,265
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul A. Offit, MD, FAAP 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.

Columbia University Press

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Table of Contents

Introduction1. The Tinderbox2. Lighting the Fuse3. The Implosion4. A Precautionary Tale5. Mercury Rising6. Mercury Falling7. Behind the Mercury Curtain8. Science in Court9. Science and the Media10. Science and Society11. A Place for AutismEpilogue

Columbia University Press

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 28 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(18)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(4)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    A must-read for anyone touched by autism

    This book takes the autism world's dirty laundry out of the shadows and hangs it out in the open. Sunlight, they say, is the best disinfectant. I hope every family with an autistic child reads this book. It will save them a lot of frustration, and maybe protect their child from harm. P.S. To Matt the librarian: You complained - inaccurately - about people rating the book without having read it, and admitted you had not read it yourself, but went ahead and rated it 'poor' anyway? Way to keep an open mind.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2008

    Finally! A voice of reason regards Vaccines do NOT equal Autisim

    As a mom, I am so happy that Dr. Offit has written a clinical and scientific book to dispel this awful notion that vaccines cause autism. The American people will benefit from his knowledge and his stellar career at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. Keep it up!!! The 30 second sound bites from the news room should pick up a copy and give this the same time they give the 'sensational' but untrue notion that celebrities have 'cured autisim.' The American people deserve better.

    10 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Finally the truth comes out

    I am a senior therapist who works with children with autism. I picked up this book because I wanted to learn about vaccines and autism. I am both amazed and appalled by the negative reviews given to Dr. Offit, especially by those who haven't read the book. People cannot deny scientific fact yet many parents utilized anecdotes to justify why vaccines cause autism. Andrew Wakefield is being investigated, he fraudently published data and gave false hope to many parents. As a social worker who has to abide by a strong code of ethics I am deeply disturbed that a Dr. such as Wakefield would falsify data for his own financial gain and misinform his other more upstanding colleagues. Also, how can parents and DAN professional deny the sixteen epidemiological studies? One reviewer wrote that more studies needed to be done to determine if there is a link, is sixteen not enough because in my profession that is plenty. We have wasted enough time on this debate and children are suffering, as a community and population we should focus our resources on finding out the cause and working on creating more best practice methods to helping those with autism. Dr. Offit's book was very well presented and should be read by parents, siblings, students, teachers, anyone that wants to know truthful information about autism and vaccines. To respond to the reviewer who claims that Offit is biased in his opinion and he stands to make money off the patent of his vaccination and the sales of this book, you are grossly incorrect. Offit states in the prologue and author information section that he is the developer of the Rota Virus vaccine and has donated all roylaties from the book to fund autism research; if only Andrew Wakefield could say as much.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2008

    I've read the book! I have an advance copy as do others.

    This book is amazing for it's clarity and readability and for the courage that is exemplifies. Dr. Offit is constantly vilified by people who think they know what they are talking about but who have their heads filled with utter nonsense that they've picked up on Internet bulletin boards and groups. The level of rank ignorance about the immune system of babies, about the immune system of autistic children in general, about all aspects of child development and autism in particular is stunning, but people don't let their mind-numbing ignorance stop them from spouting 'facts' about Dr. Offit and facts about autism and vaccines. Read this book. It exposes the insane, inane and lame history that is at the root of the belief that vaccines, vaccine ingredients and un-named 'toxins' can cause autism. This country has been totally taken for a ride by people like David Kirby, Dan Olmsted, Mark Blaxill, Lyn Redwood, Sallie Bernard and Lenny Schafer. What they along with greedy, lying, toxic tort law firms done to autistic children is monstrous and what they've done to confidence in vaccines is totally unforgivable.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 8, 2008

    should be required reading for all parents

    Fastastic book, well written, loaded with good info

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2009

    A book about vaccines with actual research to back it up.

    I wish more parents would just put down their "Dr. Sears books" for a minute and read this book. It is intellingently written and very helpful in this whole autism, vaccines, merucry etc. debate

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 16, 2009

    You go, Dr. Offit!

    I am not a doctor, but I've read all the research and am staunchly pro-vaccine. It is impossible for me to imagine why doctors like Dr. Offit, a tireless researcher and bonafide expert in this field, would receive DEATH THREATS from parents! And it's ridiculous to think that the medical community is trying to hide the truth to make money off of vaccines... What about the hippocratic oath?<BR/><BR/>Why on earth would you choose to put your child's health in the hands of sanctimonious, sensationalist blowhard celebrities, when real doctors publish study after study debunking the pie-in-the-sky claims that vaccines cause autism?<BR/><BR/>VACCINATE YOUR CHILDREN, PEOPLE! I am scared to death that my unborn child will one day contract measles, mumps or rubella from the blameless child of parents who believe this claptrap.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2008

    About time!

    It's about time a book like this has come out. There is a lot of really questionable science/medicine in the alternative-medical side of autism. Some is downright dangerous. Kudo's to Dr. Offit for stepping forward to tell these sad stories. P.s. Matt the librarian should be aware that some people get advanced copies of books.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 24, 2010

    This book is a must read for anyone who has children or know anyone with children.

    There is so much garbage out there, written and talked about by people with their own agendas, on autism and vaccines. This is a balanced, well written book that debunks these "theories" and exposes the perpetrators for what they are- money and glory seeking false scientists who put their personal objectives before the health of children.
    The book is written as a time-line, so the reader must read the entire book to be informed on this issue, but anyone who puts in the time, will be amply rewarded.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 27, 2008

    Just to set the record straight and to honestly review the book...

    1. I am well aware that people do get advance review copies of certain books. As a librarian, I am frequently asked to preview books. These people, however, usually announce that fact in their reviews in order to let people know that things are kosher, rather than posting anonymously. This practice, sadly, is all the more common on hot-button issues, such as politics and medical issues and has been particularly prevelant regarding books on autism. 2. Were it possible to merely leave a comment reminding people of such vote rigging before books are widely released instead of having to rate precisely rate a book, I would do so. Denied that option, I chose to rate the book so as to create as neutral and balanced a rating as possible. 3. I have read the book since my first review and it is not something I feel comfortable having in my library as a factual guide. Sadly, bn.com does not allow direct links to other websites in reviews - but anyone with a modicum of research ability should be able to find reviews showing Offit's dishonesty. One of the more glaring examples is his contention that thimerosal (a mercury compound) is no longer used as an anti-contaminant. Actually, it IS still used - just not in the larger doses that were standard before parents began to question the wisdom of injecting mercury into a still-developing body. I urge you all to do your own research and draw your own conclusions.

    3 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2008

    Not accurate

    In reading this book I have come across so many incorrect statements and downright lies that it was painful to read. I knew I disagreed with the main message initially, having a child that regressed into autism immediately following routine vaccinations at 15 months but I believe it is my duty to read all sides of the issue to educate myself. Anyhow, one glaring error Offit presents is about Vitamin B6 injections, routinely rxed by DAN Doctors. There is no such thing - DAN docs prescribe B12 injections. It may seem slight but it just lends to the credibility to this book - this is one example - small errors abound which add up to the big picture and any great debater knows that fallacy after fallacy lend to doubt and loss of the debate. This man clearly thinks he knows everything and clearly does not. Just because a correlation between autism and vaccines has not been proven does not mean it is not plausible, possible and even likely.

    2 out of 19 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2008

    Read the book first!

    I am the brother of an autistic man and I haven't read this book yet. But neither has the person who wrote the five star review, despite the book not having come out yet. To be honestly, I just recently got back into the autism activism after having spent most of my teen years working with autistic children. While I'm skeptical of their being a link between autism and vaccination, I do believe that more studies should be performed in order to confirm things once and for all, one way or the other. And the skeptic in me wonders why the companies making the vaccines seem to be reluctant to do this research since it would save them more money in the long run and confirm their good intent for public health. As such, I am somwhat skpetical of this book given Dr. Offit's reputation and financial connections to those who stand to lose millions if not billions should a link between autism and vaccination be proven. John Dobbs has reported upon Offit's questionable dealings (a Google search for 'John Dobbs' + 'autism' will bring it up) and as I said before, I can't help but wonder why so much effort is being put into denouncing the Green Vaccine movement instead of verifying their own claims. Nevertheless, I intend to read the book first and check the facts as I do so. I urge you all to do the same and not give into the cult of celebrity, one way or the other. I question Jenny McCarthy's wisdom on medical matters as much as I question Amanda Peet's wisdom in calling parents who don't choose to vaccinate 'parasites' in an attempt to win them over to the Every Child By Two program.

    2 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 22, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    Evidence-based medicine is better than faith-based

    This splendid book exposes the dangers of backing faith-based medicine over evidence-based medicine. Dr Offit is the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Andrew Wakefield’s first paper in The Lancet was based on tests by his research assistant Nicholas Chadwick, who later testified that he had found no measles RNA in the guts of any of the autistic children tested. Yet Wakefield claimed that they had found measles RNA there. (See pages 173-5.) Wakefield later falsely claimed to have found measles virus in the intestines of 150 autistic children, in tests done by Unigenetics Laboratories, an unaccredited company, now thankfully defunct. 16 epidemiological studies found that vaccines do not cause autism. Even then, Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail defended Wakefield, accusing ‘the medical establishment’ of ‘continuing to misrepresent the evidence’! As Offit writes, “the false alarm about vaccines and autism continues to harm a lot of children – harm from not getting needed vaccines, harm from potentially dangerous treatments to eliminate mercury, and harm from therapies as absurd as testosterone ablation and electric shock. … the feared vaccine-autism link, which has now been disproved, diverts research dollars from more promising leads.” A false alarm about thimerosal, a mercury derivative, harmed the USA’s hepatitis B immunisation programme. The number of children diagnosed with autism increased after thimerosal had been taken out of vaccines. Offit points out, “there wasn’t an epidemic of autism; rather, broadening the definition of the disability to include mildly affected children, as well as heightened awareness among parents and doctors, has accounted for the increase.” Five epidemiological studies found that thimerosal does not cause autism. Offit notes, “After examining the records of hundreds of thousands of children, investigators working in both North America and Europe couldn’t find any evidence of a relationship between thimerosal and autism. It wasn’t that their studies were poorly designed or that they had been part of a vast international conspiracy to hide the truth. They couldn’t find a relationship because it wasn’t there to be found.” The lobby opposing vaccination often accuses doctors of making money from backing vaccination, so it is worth noting that Wakefield got £435,643 from Richard Barr, a personal-injury lawyer representing parents who were suing pharmaceutical companies. Wakefield later took a US post at a salary of $280,000 a year.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 24, 2009

    Conflict of Interest

    Dr. Offit is the patent holder for the new rotavirus vaccine, recently added to the Immunization Schedule. I hope he has this disclamier in his book.
    I have not read his book, but do have concerns on the topic of autism. At the alarming rate of 1 in 150, it is a major health issue.
    So much good cop / bad cop talk going on, we are forgetting the children and adults who are truly suffering.
    We need to focus our energy on a solution to the problem.
    I also think a lot of respect needs to go to the the families suffering with autism, and not disregard their stories.
    I have a hope that soon the world will really know the truth soon.

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 9, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted November 26, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted April 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted September 24, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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    Posted April 20, 2010

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    Posted January 21, 2009

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